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James Goodman

As Good As It Gets

James Goodman

James Goodman

How it all began

I come from a dyed in the wool horse family. My mother and father both rode. My mother was a great horsewoman and bred one of my good early horses, All The Rage. I have two brothers and three sisters (I’m the oldest) and none of the others are interested in horses.

I did all phases of equestrianism and had my junior Transvaal colours in show-jumping, eventing and all those things. Then I started playing polo and I think in the first tournament we played down in Cape Town, we beat Tommy Loftus, Terrance Millard and the Rixon brothers. I was 15 or 16 at the time. I also rode in some point to point races in the Cape, at the old Kenilworth inside track, mainly for Tony Kalmanson.

Goodman on the army

Alistair Gordon and I went to school together and have been best friends ever since. When we finished school, I went to the army and Alistair went to England to work for Tom Jones. It’s a little known fact that Alan Richards, James Nesbit, Roy Gershow and I started the horse school in the army. The whole thing was set up by Roy’s father Manny, who approached Colonel Stark and asked ‘why don’t you set up a horse unit? You’ve got the perfect bunch of guys.’ So we built the stables in Potch.

Goodman on polo

While I was trying to make my way as a jump jockey in England, I got to play polo with Prince Philip. My father played polo and he and the prince were great friends. My father broke his leg just before a match, so Lord Beresford invited me to play at the Guards Polo Club. Charles was overseas doing his Navy stint, so I got to play Prince Philip’s ponies alongside the Prince, Lord Beresford and Lord Waterford. It was the last game Prince Philip ever played, actually. I was terrible and we got an absolute hiding from the Argentinians, but it was a wonderful opportunity – I got to meet and have tea with the Queen!

I also met Eduardo Moore who was the best polo player in England at the time. He said “Jamie, you’ve got no idea about playing polo, but if you come to Argentina, I will make you into a polo player.” My dad encouraged me to go – I think he was hoping to get me out of racing. It was really close too. Anyway, I went to the Argentine and I did learn to play polo. A Texan oil billionaire offered me a job in the US and I tossed a coin whether to play polo in the US or come back to SA to train horses. I came home. I should perhaps have gone to US. That’s probably my only regret, but for the rest, I’ve been blessed to have got this far and lived the life I’ve had.

On racing

I think I’m what is called a fan of the game. I like training horses because I just love horses. I applied for my license when I was 22, but the Jockey Club turned me down – they said I was too young. So I worked for Ricky Howard-Ginsberg for a year as his assistant – what a great guy and a great trainer. I got my license on 1 Jan 1975 and started at the Vaal with 6 horses. Alistair Gordon gave me a horse, Ricky Howard-Ginsberg gave me a horse, my parents gave me a couple and Terrance Millard sent me a horse he trained for my grandmother – I got the broken down crocks! I had my first winner in July 1975 with a horse called Profumo. He was a PE chuckout, but a very nice horse. He won me my first ever race in July and then the Germiston City Handicap, which is now the November Handicap. I’ve been training for 40 years now and can’t see myself retiring.

Goodman on training centres

I hated the Vaal, so I went to Newmarket. I rented a beautiful yard from Len Oats and built up a stable. Then I met a guy who bought the land at Randjesfontein. I was Chairman of the Transvaal Trainers Association for a number of years and a bit of a firebrand at that, but one of the things we did was build Randjes.

At the time, Ladbrokes and Woolworths were partners. If they’d done things the right way, we might have had a race course and a casino. We got all the consents, but the racing industry didn’t want to know. They did not believe Randjes was the right place for owners to access their horses. If they look back now, I think they’ll realise it was an error.

Randjes was given to them at a cheap price and the stables were paid for by the Thoroughbred Development Fund. I was one of the first to move along with Spike Lerena, Brian de Villiers and Bert Sage. The clubs made it very difficult for us. I was on a month by month license. I had to plough a track in the fields and hire a float to drive the horses in myself. But my first two runners from Randjes were both winners – Duke Of Marmalad and All The Rage – and they both won on the same day. I ended up being one of the biggest trainers at Randjes.

I bought the first residential plot, right next to the stables – I could walk home! Then my wife divorced me and I couldn’t train next door to the house I’d built, so I decided to move to Durban and be with my father. I changed my whole lifestyle. I decided only to train 30 horses and only to train for friends and basically that’s what I do. I’ve been here since 2004 and love every minute.

Goodman on presenting

I was working part-time for Gosforth Park as a marketing manager and mentioned to Graham Beck that we should do pre and post-race interviews. Beck liked the idea and said ‘Great! You start on Saturday.’ Of course I’d never done anything like it in my life so I asked my old mate Brough Scott for help. His advice was ‘When you’re talking to the camera, convey that you know everything.’ Best advice I ever got.

Winning Ways

Laff and I have always been friends, so when I moved to Durban I said we should do a TV show. We brainstormed the name and format and it’s been very successful. It works better with Paul and me than anyone else. We’ve both had to do it with other people on occasion, but it’s just not the same dynamic. We understand each other and the banter is what it’s all about. It’s the longest running independent show on Tellytrack. We’ve never missed a show in 5 years and we’re extremely proud of that. It doesn’t make much money, but we’ve got fantastic sponsors who make it worth our while. We work hard at it, but we love doing it and wouldn’t give it up for anything. And we’ve got a tremendous following. If the show is an hour late, my phone just hums!”

We do all our prepping on Sunday night and Monday morning. We pick the three to follow and our run of the week. We get no say in the Blast From The Past – Tellytrack puts on what it likes. For the ‘Your Call’ segment we have a roster and try and get someone who’s interesting. Obviously some are good and some are bad, but that’s how it goes.

We record in the Durban studio on Monday morning at about 9:30am. There’s no time for editing so it’s a one take policy. It has to be at Rivonia by 5pm and then the Tellytrack guys vet the show. They’ve got the final say and have taken the show off a couple of times. It’s meant to go on at 8pm every Monday, but they do it when they like and split it up how they like – we have no control. The other day we did an interview with Michel Nairac that they didn’t like and cut in half. It’s a pity really. If you saw some of the emails we get! Obviously there will always be people who don’t like something you do, but there are so many problems that exist that the powers that be ignore. Racing is chasing away customers like crazy over stupid things.”

Goodman on Golf

I like golf because I think that it’s the greatest test of character I’ve ever known. It’s much more difficult than anything else. I was quite a good polo player and that is quite a difficult sport. But golf’s much more difficult – and yet, all you’re doing is standing on the ground with a ball between your feet. It’s the greatest test of character on earth. There’s no comparison with riding. Every time you step up to the ball you’ve got to have nerves of steel. Plus it creates great camaraderie – I love the people I play with. It’s a great way to relax and spend 4 or 5 hours with your friends. I’m very competitive by nature and have a golf handicap of 9.

Goodman on travel

I like going to places and have made it my business to travel to see the things I want. I’ve been everywhere but the electric chair. When I turned 50, I decided I love golf and went to play on seniors tour in America. So I packed up, left my stable with my assistant and went for June / July / August. Every week I had to have a Monday qualifier – I was never good enough, but I loved doing it and what I did was go to all the racecourses wherever the tournament was. I made friends with people like Maggi Moss, Ron McAnally and Trevor Denman. I’ve seen horses like Seattle Slew and Secretariat. I went to Cheltenham for a number of years, Ascot is fantastic. I went to the Arc the year Dahlia won. Epsom is also fantastic. The only thing I haven’t seen is the Breeders Cup – that’s still on my bucket list.

Goodman on trainers

I met Angel Penna and thought he was the greatest, but Mike de Kock is the best trainer I’ve ever seen train a horse. I mean it. We’re quite friendly, so I’ve been able to watch him closely. He has a 6th and 7th sense about horses like I’ve never seen in anyone else. He just has a touch.

Goodman on jockeys

The best jockey I’ve ever seen is Lester Piggot. He’s a real character and as a jockey, he’s a supreme artist. He won one of the best Derbies I’ve ever seen when Roberto beat Rheingold right on the finish line. I was lucky enough to see it in person. It was only Piggott’s brilliance that got Roberto home. If they’d changed jockeys, Rheingold would have won.

Little known fact about James

I was diagnosed with cancer at 49 and survived it by pure luck. I was doing a show called The Summit with Mike de Kock and Michael Azzie in 2000 and I wasn’t in good shape, but no-one knew what I had. I had an oncologist in Sandton where I was doing all the treatments and asked him ‘how does one live to combat it?’ He said one has to get rid of stress. Subsequently that’s what I do. I’ve been clear for 10 years and I feel marvellous. Every day is a blessing.

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4 comments on “James Goodman

  1. NADINE BASSON says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this.

  2. Neill De Bruyn says:

    Yo this article was published in 2015 Nadine.
    I was a bit disappointed when the Archive segment of SP disappeared with the site’s makeover, but then discovered that if you Google Sporting Post followed by a name or a subject you usually get something that you would have found in the archives.
    For example, a search for “Sporting Post Cecil Pienaar” turns up quite a few results.
    Van jou comments word nou op die internet bewaar vir die nageslag Cecil 🤣🤣 Skuus as julle dit reeds weet .

  3. Cecil Pienaar says:

    Hello Neil 🙂,,, ja nee Kyk 7 jr terug was ons Editor, Pieta en William nog in hulle 40s… Dieselfde James en ou Laff het vroeer jare altyd by Tafel 106 gesit by die ou Scottsville. Ek en my Vrou by 107, Eish, hulle het k#k tips gegee 😀…

    Albert Falls Greetings 🎣

  4. Margie Mann says:

    My daughters and l used to work at Gosforth Park Owners and trainers and also st Kelvins restaurant. One night after the yearling sales we were on our way home in my beat up old Cressida….it was quite late at night. We ran out of petrol about one kilometre down the road. So l stayed in the car and the two girls walked down the road to the petrol station. Who should drive by but James Goodman….who kindly stopped, took them to the petrol station and brought them back to my car with the petrol. Thank you and bless you James. I wonder if you remember that night.
    Love Margie and daughters

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