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John Koster

John Koster is a member of one of South Africa’s best established thoroughbred breeding families and under his guidance Klawervlei Stud is soaring to new heights.  Now home to no fewer than 11 stallions including the highly successful Captain Al and several young, as yet untried prospects, Klawervlei has become an even greater force than ever before in the world of breeding.  Overseeing an operation which runs 250 of its own mares and around 25 mares belonging to other owners is not easy, but John is living his dream and Klawervlei continues to produce the big winners.  The stud’s most recent important success came when Thunder Dance won the Gr 1 Paddock Stakes on January 7th.  Klawervlei will be represented by some 50 lots on the Cape Premier Yearling Sale to be held in the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 26th and 27th January.  You can bet that they have been brought up the right way, and in their midst there are bound to be some serious racehorses of the future.

What is your name and age? John Koster, 49 years.

What is your star sign and birthdate? Leo, 25th July 1962.

Where were you born? Beaufort West in the heart of the Great Karoo.

Where do you currently live? Bonnievale, Breede River Valley, Cape.

Tell us about your family? I am married to Lana-Anne and have 3 wonderful children
JP, Nick and Tina.

Do you have a ‘nickname’? I’m often called JK.

Favourite food? Seafood of any sort.

Favourite drink? A good wine, red or white, especially when it is made by a good friend. I have a good few mates who are wonderful wine makers and connoisseurs of the industry.

Favourite music? Any music with a good tune.

Favourite pastime? Spending time with family and friends. Racing carnivals like Cheltenham, The Derby, Breeders’ Cup, Royal Ascot, sporting events and occasional hunting trips.

What is your favourite holiday destination? Hermanus.

Since the 1930’s your family have all been involved in breeding racehorses. Was there ever a time when you considered doing something else? Being the eldest of my generation of Kosters, I was very close to my grandfather Ralph and would spend time during most holidays with him. He instilled my love of the thoroughbred and my father Peter taught me about nature and farming. I used to write all our pedigrees by hand – something that had to do with my lack of effort in Matric exams. I never considered anything else except farming and breeding thoroughbred horses!

After completing your schooling did you go straight onto a farm or did you spend any time elsewhere in the world? The first 6 months I worked for my Dad and uncle Wilfred learning how we did things at home. Then – 2 years in the army as a captain. After that 8 months at Zandvliet Stud with Uncle Paulie and Dan de Wet, master breeders and horsemen. Thereafter nearly 2 years at Coolmore under the tutelage of the great Tommy Stack (of Red Rum and Grand National fame). World class farm, world class people!

Other than your family, did anyone else coax you into breeding? I needed no coaxing, but a few people convinced me I was making the right choice. Amongst others, they were Paulie de Wet, Tommy Stack, Lionel Cohen, Vaughan Marshall and a wonderful evening spent with the legend John Magnier at his home in Ireland that sealed my fate.

As a young man which of your family’s sires really left an impression on you? Preamble II was the ultimate sire. He ran over 3200m yet could sire progeny to win from sprinting to staying with both colts and fillies. He also nicked beautifully with Dramatic (probably the most perfectly conformed horse) mares to produce classic horses.

How did you become involved with the great businessman, Markus Jooste, and how was it decided that Klawervlei would be the farm at the helm of this really big and exciting enterprise? A lunch date in Hermanus organised by a mutual friend Danie van Der Merwe (a partner in Klawervlei) changed my life forever. Being involved in a family business and having a young Captain Al in the stallion barn, I was not keen to be going into any partnership venture. It took no less than 20 minutes with Markus to realise this partnership was an opportunity of a lifetime – his vision and leadership is beyond comprehension. Markus is very strong on family and tradition – that is why he suggested we keep the stud name as Klawervlei – in line with the Koster family history.
The stallion band seems to grow by the day. How many stallions are now resident at Klawervlei and who are they? We have 11 resident stallions and 3 placed in the Karoo and KZN. At Klawervlei they are Albert Hall, Captain Al, Count Dubois, Dupont, Jay Peg, King’s Apostle, National Emblem, Oracy, Rebel King, Seventh Rock and Warm White Night.

Do you have a particular favourite amongst the stallions? I rate each stallion, that is why they all have a place in the stallion barn. Captain Al has a wonderful story concerning two families. He is home bred, a fact that will always make him special.

How many mares does Klawervlei own and who decides which mares should go to which stallions? We currently run 250 mares. Doing the matings is a team effort that includes Johan du Plessis, Grant Knowles (valuations) and Pieter van Zyl (conformation). Bernard loves the pedigrees and is very interested in the matings. We ask plenty of advice regarding matings from professionals such as Form Bloodstock, Karel Miedema, John Freeman, Rob Knuppe, Lynton Ryan and Alan Porter of True-nicks, to name a few.

How many visiting mares normally come to the farm? We run about 25 mares for friends on the farm. 592 visiting mares walked through the stallion barn this year. Our stallions covered 788 mares in total.

Who decides whether a visiting mare is up to standard to go to one of your stallions? Never make the mistake of telling a breeder he may or may not do a specific mating – great horses have been unfashionably bred all over the world. Some breeders are strong on pedigree and others on conformation. Breeders know their own mares better than any stallion owner.

In the recent past you have expressed the view that SA breeders could be in danger of overbreeding. Is this problem being rectified or is there still much to be done, and worked out, to prevent this from happening? It is a problem in many parts of the world. The financial crisis will and has in the past assisted in correcting overbreeding. 2008 was a record year regarding selling yearlings in SA, so most people were keen to breed as many mares as possible. No one was ready for what was about to happen and it was very sudden! Already, though, we have noticed a lot of mares being taken out of the cycle. In the end – quality counts.

What can we do about it? Keep improving the quality of our stock and don’t over mate our mares. Cull ruthlessly. We also need to be very proactive regarding sales and the way we sell horses. Seek new markets and new buyers, locally and internationally. This country has so much to offer. It is time to be dynamic, get out of the rut we have been in for so long. This is a global game and we can play just as well as anybody else. We have the product, the ground and the climate. We have great horsemen amongst our breeders, trainers, jockeys and grooms. We have owners who crave to participate globally. Sort the AHS protocol and we could fly. We also have a wonderful relationship with Government and set the example to all other departments in the agriculture sector of empowering our staff through the grooms co – ops.

Has being involved with a very astute businessman like Markus Jooste drastically changed your ideas about how best to run a stud farm? I think the physical running of the farm and the horsemanship remains what is best done from nature’s point of view. Having globally respected businessmen of the calibre of Markus, Bernard and Chris in the boardroom is a revelation! They bring a colossal amount of intellectual capital into planning and decision making. We have quarterly board meetings and run the stud as a corporate entity. Their vision,  wisdom, acumen, knowledge, support and enthusiasm is incredible. It is a massive privilege to be part of the team with them. Being involved with them has broadened my outlook on many aspects of life!

Klawervlei has put up a wonderful prize of R250 000 for the season’s champion jockey. Well done for the wonderful gesture! Has Klawervlei any other innovative ideas to stimulate interest in racing? The idea of this prize was given to us by a friend in the industry which we appreciate. We are constantly discussing various ideas – in time some of them will hopefully materialise.

Which of the Klawervlei bred horses currently racing would you expect to see involved in some of the country’s forthcoming feature events? Shea Shea, Trinity House, Leeward, Thunder Dance, Kolkata, Emerald Cove, Grecian Frigate, Captain’s Wild, Combattimento and hopefully the Trippi babies will come out flying.

What short term plans have you and your team got for Klawervlei? We have grown a lot numbers wise in a short period of time. Short term plans are to maximise the 2 farms’ infrastructures, concentrate on improving our skills within management and staff; adopting a close working relationship regarding how we raise the yearlings with Dr John McVeigh. Create our own pre-training centre and to continually increase the quality of our stock are a few of the goals.

How many horses will Klawervlei have on the Cape Premier Yearling Sale to be held on the 26th & 27th January? 45 plus 6 Agent yearlings for clients.

How do you rate the Cape Town Convention Centre as a sales venue? It is a world class venue! Close to the hotels and social areas. The CTICC is comfortable, air-conditioned and has all the facilities. The horses are relaxed and seem to really enjoy the experience. The Centre also creates an energetic and pulsating vibe. It is unique to be able to have a sale in a city centre with these facilities.

What are some of the more important lessons you have learnt about breeding and racing in your career to date? Never go against nature – she is in charge and she needs to be nurtured and cherished. Place the interest of the horse first – the rest will follow. Personal interests only ruin it for all – working together is vital to the success and sustainability of the industry. We can learn from Hong Kong and Japan. Disseminate as much information to the punter as possible.

What is your opinion on the current export protocols? Do you believe that they are too strict? I think the current protocol is outdated and ridiculous. From a scientific point of view, there is no reason whatsoever not to amend the current protocol. This is clearly political. South Africa has exported in excess of 350,000 horses worldwide since the 1700’s and we have never exported AHS! I believe it is unfair trade practice……

How bullish are you about the future of the SA breeding & racing industry? This is a great game! It will never die! We have some powerful leaders within the racing game and I believe they will make a difference. I honestly believe a single operator running racing would be the ultimate. From a breeding perspective, there is light at the end of the tunnel. If the OIE amends the protocol and we can deliver our product within a month then I believe there will be huge trade for SA horses. Nowhere in the world can the class of horse that we produce be done as cost effectively as we can.

Which has been the most memorable and exciting day you have had in racing or breeding thus far? Homebred Captain Al winning the Guineas for my great friends Gary and Anthony dos Santos cemented his future as a stallion prospect – the rest is history. Klawervlei sponsoring the Gr 1 Majorca Stakes and winning it in the first running with another wonderful friend and supporter Ian Longmore and Shadow Dancing was also special! (the great filly Majorca was bred by my grandfather Ralph).

Outside of racing and breeding what is your biggest passion? For sure my family. We get a huge amount of pleasure following the careers of our children, whether it be business, sport or cultural – we partake wherever possible.

How do you celebrate a big win? Go big or go home!

Do you ever advise friends or potential owners to buy horses that you have bred and rate highly? I will only give an opinion if asked.

Do you think enough is being done to keep racing ‘straight?’ I suppose everything in life can be improved, but I believe racing is straight. I certainly portray that view in non-racing circles.

If you had any advice for your fellow associates in the racing game what would it be? Everyone has a chance of success. Be happy for those who win and share in their joy. Your turn will come. Work together for the betterment of the game.

What is your philosophy on the racing game and breeding in particular? Work hard, be passionate, love the horses, enjoy being with the people and live life to the full.

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