There is a new presence at Milnerton training centre. A young, blonde presence who greets you with a broad smile, a friendly wave and an irresistible invitation for a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning. Lucinda Woodruff has set up shop at Milnerton for the winter season and being every bit as approachable and accommodating as her famous father, we stopped by to get to know her better.
Lucinda is wrapped up against the Cape’s cold morning weather and while normal mortals look like the Oros man in padded winter jackets, she is effortlessly chic in a smart K-way jacket, skinny jeans and Hunter wellies.
On arrival she is checking over her small string, who have already finished work for the morning. They’ve been rubbed down and had their morning feed and most are snoozing in their smart blue day sheets. She has been allocated a small number of visitors’ boxes between Reeves Racing and Dolfie Maeder and is already making work of tidying and brightening up the space. The office has been freshly painted and elegantly fitted with furniture, a coffee station has been set up in the kitchen area and the bathroom has been scrubbed and kitted out with fresh hand towels and scented hand soap. Ah, a woman’s touch!
Lucinda explains that she drove down at the end of April and Carol came down to help her get set up. The first batch of five horses arrived on the 4th of May. It’s a team of older, raced horses that the team want to winter in the Cape. “Vidrik Thurling and Teresa Esplin have been really accommodating and made it all very easy for us. The horses have already adapted well to their new surroundings and the next batch will come through once the movement restrictions are lifted. That will be a group of unraced horses for me to prep for the Ready To Run Sale. The idea is to have a mix of babies for sales prep and some older, raced horses that do not cope well with the hard Highveld winter tracks, but aren’t suitable for the Durban season.”
Home from home
Of course, Lucinda is no stranger to the Cape. She is the youngest of the three Woodruff children and was born on Carol and Geoff’s old Montana Farm training centre outside Milnerton. It was only when Tony Millard moved to Hong Kong, that the Woodruffs moved to Johannesburg.
With Terrance Millard as a grandfather, a top flight riding and training team as parents and her uncle Tony at the top of his game in Hong Kong, horses have always been in her blood and Lucinda says she’s been riding since before she could walk. “Mom was always very good with us and taught us all about horses and riding from day one. She is pedantic about stable management – she expects the best and everything must be done to a T. She has been a huge influence in my career and has been a big support ever since I was a little girl.”
Lucinda was a competitive rider and show-jumped all through her school years at Treverton College, making the KZN show-jumping team and winning Pony Rider and Rider of the Year in 2009. She currently has a Warmblood mare that she had to leave behind in Joburg, but hopes to bring her down in the future. Despite her success in the competitive arena, Lucinda says she always knew she wanted a future in racing.
“After matric I applied to UCT and I actually got in. That was my attempt at trying to be normal! But I didn’t end up going. I considered going abroad straight after school, but opted to stay home and work for Dad for a year instead. After that, our bloodstock agent Paul Guy came out for a visit and as I had some experience under my belt, I felt I was ready to go abroad. Paul helped organise a working visit to Australia. I spent three months at Bluegum Farm (who bred Killua Castle) and then two months with David Hayes at Lindsay Park. I got home just before the July last year and then joined my dad again.”
“When it comes to my dad, he’s always been my hero and we’re very close. My dad never pushed any of us to get involved in racing. If it was something we wanted, it had to be on our own accord. He always said that if we wanted in, then we had to show him and until we showed him that we were interested, he never pushed us. Where my mom taught me the horse and riding side, my dad taught me the racing side. He is a wealth of information and a very good teacher. He is a gentle soul and very nice to work for, but there are no concessions – if you screw up, you get told off properly!”
“Tim joined the yard when he was 22. He first tried to be a rock star. He’s a really good singer and guitarist and he studied sound engineering and film and media, but it’s a tough industry and he realised that it wasn’t going to work out. Tim and my dad do most of the daily work with the horses, but it’s very much a team effort and we all do a bit of everything. Nadia and Manu are our assistants in Joburg. We all work closely together and before any decisions are made, everyone gets to give their input.”
“Having the extra help frees up my dad and makes it easier when we want to take a visiting string to Durban or Cape Town for the season. Last November Dad sent me here with our Cape string. I had all our best horses!” she grins. “I had Louis The King, Tellina who had just been gelded and Arcetri Pink. The Captain’s Tune came down for the Ready To Run Stakes and Killua Castle came down just before the Met. It was a huge responsibility and I’m very grateful to my Dad for having faith in me. It gave me a lot of confidence, so when we discussed this move, I knew I could do it.” Terrance Millard lives just up the road and was a frequent visitor over the Cape season. Lucinda says he’s a wonderful resource to have on hand and is every excited to have her back again.
Of course, Adam Marcus is another big help. “Two years ago I came down for the Cape season with my mom. I met Adam, we became friends and then started seeing each other just before I headed off to Australia. When I got back we did the long-distance thing for a while and we’ve now been together for 16 months. Basil (Marcus) has also been great. He helped me a lot in the Cape season and used to ride Louis in the mornings. It helps to have the world’s best jockey as your work rider!”
“I’ve brought a small team down with me. I’ve brought one of our work riders and our head guy from the Cape season has come along again, so it’s just the three of us. It helps the horses to have a bit of familiarity and continuity in their new environment.” The current string includes Lockheed Jetstar, Ntombe, Desert Destiny, Postcardfromparis and Sky Fly and Lucinda is clearly relishing the challenge. “The horses have adapted well. They came from doing light work in Beaufort West and I was pleasantly surprised at their fitness levels when they arrived. The tracks are very different to what they’ve been used to, but I’ve got a fair understanding of how to adapt the work to the Cape tracks from my previous experience. Gavin Lerena will also be coming down as often as possible to ride for us.”
“Racing is a tough career choice. It takes a long time to build a reputation and I think it’s even more of a challenge if you’re female, because it’s such a male dominated environment. Luckily I’ve grown up with it and am used to it, but I am very grateful to have the family connections and experience behind me that I do. It also helps that I’ve got quite a competitive streak. I thrive off the competitive environment and get very upset when I don’t do well,” she laughs, “But I have no regrets and I love every minute.”
With access to some pretty serious horse power, is she ever tempted to ride work herself? “Not really, but I did occasionally trot Louis around in the mornings while he was in Cape Town. He’s very strong though!”
Hopes for the season
“We don’t have a massive yard, but we’ve got good clients and good relationships and our aim is to provide a hands-on, quality service. The idea with our Cape venture is to offer our clients a little more diversity and opportunity in terms of where they can run their horses and my hope is to get the horses shining here.”
We can look forward to seeing the Woodruff name in the Cape race card at the end of the month. Desert Destiny contests the Stormsvlei Mile and Ntombe is being aimed at the Olympic Duel Stakes. We wish them every success.