Training racehorses is not for the faint of heart. A rollercoaster ride of fast and slow horses, good and bad days, economic challenges, spiralling overheads, pressured owners, labour handcuffs, jockeys. The list is endless.
No wonder there aren’t too many youngsters coming through the ranks, bar the sons and daughters of some established racing families.
This week we bumped into something of a forgotten man of the racehorse training ranks.
At age 42, Kumaran Naidoo is a textbook case of the inherent dangers and risks of subconsciously believing that a relatively successful racehorse training business built up over 17 years of blood, sweat and tears, is worth anything beyond a few second-hand saddles, when one is man down.
‘Kom’, as the lifetime Hayfields Pietermaritzburg resident is affectionately known, suffered a stroke in January 2023 and was in hospital for eight months.
At his peak, he had 100 horses in his yard. At the time of the health setback, he had 80 horses and was capably assisted by Tessa Rich.
Eleven months later, he woke up and his Summerveld yard was eerily empty. The last Kumaran Naidoo runner was sent out on Christmas Eve 2023.
Radio silence thereafter.
Today, slowly finding his feet, and determined to live his passion in the game that his Dad taught him to love, he has filled two of his boxes with horses acquired from owner Preggie Somasundram, who recently announced a rationalisation of his string.
“Two horses are not going to be gamechangers – but it’s a start and I have a great reason to get up in the morning again and enjoy what I most want to do in life!” adds Kom, as he explains the wake-up call that was his illness.
“Before I got sick, I didn’t realise that I was essentially the business. And I can’t blame any of my owners for moving on as I lay in hospital. Horses have limited careers. They eat while the owner sleeps. They cost money. I was the trainer. I was the personality. I was the reason that they supported Kom Naidoo racing,” he laments as he reflects on something he didn’t worry too much about.
The racing bug bit when Kom worked part-time for Bertie Hayden at the age of 18.
His Dad had horses and was proud that his son was learning from the trainer who is best known as the former stable jockey to the legendary Syd Laird, for whom he rode three Durban July winners, including the great Politician.
Ironically, all those years ago Bertie Hayden was also dealt a bad card when he suffered a stroke and was forced to retire.
Kom landed a position in Selvan Moodley’s yard where he worked with the experienced Steve Lodge, who was Moodley’s assistant at the time.
Later, former top jockey Rhys van Wyk replaced Lodge, and together with the knowledge he had acquired from his three-month stint with stalwart Tony Rivalland, the knowledge thirsty Kom ventured out on his own in 2006, chiefly with the encouragement of his long-time friend and patron, Seelan Chetty.
Ten years ago, Kom saddled the Gr2 Charity Mile winner and Australian bred Royal Zulu Warrior in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and the Met. He saddled 58 winners in his best season.
Today, he makes use of a wheelchair, although he is mobile and can drive, as he does every day from Pietermaritzburg.
“I battle to stand up from low chairs, and my Doctor recommended I utilise my wheelchair in the course of the day. My sister Roxanne has been a pillar of strength and support to me through this ordeal, and I cannot thank her enough for always being there for me. Hollywoodbets also continue to loyally sponsor me, and there are some other exciting possibilities on the horizon, including discussions with some of my former patrons,” he added positively.
The last winner under the Kom Naidoo banner was Teerex at Hollywoodbets Greyville on 8 November 2023.
In an economically challenging post-covid environment, where does trainer Kom Naidoo go from here?
“Life is all about challenges. Starting all over is not necessarily a bad thing. Covid was a gamechanger all over the globe. So I am not alone. I just want to build my string slowly and am so looking forward to training a winner again soon. Until then I am inviting anybody looking for a dedicated and committed trainer to give me a call, or email me. I promise – I won’t be full of nonsense, or too fussy!” he laughs.
- Kom can be contacted on 073 359 5080 – or email him at [email protected].