Paul Lafferty is the rakish, bewhiskered face that has become such a familiar fixture on the South African racing landscape. Having just saddled his second career Gr1 winner with Harry’s Son in last weekend’s Premier’s Champion Stakes, we thought we’d get to know him a little better.
Who is Paul Lafferty?
My family are Irish. My dad was a bricklayer and my mother worked for Scotland Yard. They came over here after the war. They settled in Durban and my dad worked for some of the local construction companies. I’m a Durban boy born and bred. My dad loved the horses, so that’s where that comes from.
I went to New Forest High School in Durban. I didn’t go to varsity – just went straight into my military training, where I went to the equestrian division and that furthered my knowledge and my interest.
When I finished that, I went and played soccer professionally for Durban City. We were the leading team back then and we were good footballers – we won the league 2 years in a row. I’m still very involved and MC a lot of the football functions. I’m still great friends with a lot of the guys and have trained horses for quite a lot of them.
What do you make of the new Bafana Bafana coach, Shakes Mashaba?
Look, Gordon Igesund and I went to school together, and he’s the best as far as I’m concerned. I wish Shakes all the best but other than that, I’ll take the fifth!
How did you get into training?
I started working with Ivan Pickering – he’s a wonderful friend and a wonderful man – I don’t have enough adjectives to describe him. Then Herman Brown jnr started and I worked with Herman for a bit until I got a gap from USA in the early 80’s. I’d grown up and played football with Trevor Denman and his brother Eric and Trevor got me a job with Neil Drysdale in the USA. He didn’t know me from a bar of soap, so I started off right at the bottom. I was there for about 18 months. He really knew his horses and had been a top trainer for many years. He was a real leg man and very interested in lameness, so I gained a lot of knowledge. While I was out there, I met Roy Waugh. He was a trainer in America at the time and that’s how we met.
Anyway, while I was in the US, I got a call saying that there were stables available at Ashburton and so I came back and started at Ashburton sometime in the mid-80’s. Roy trained on his own for a bit, then went into commerce for a while and now he’s back with me, working as my assistant.
Who was your first winner?
It was a horse called Lady Phillips and Felix Coetzee rode her for me.
You have a somewhat ‘modern’ domestic set-up. Tell us about your family life?
I’m married to Jan and we’ve got 2 daughters. Amy is my eldest and then there’s a 7 year gap to Holly, my youngest. Both girls are extremely bright, but with Amy in particular doing so well at school, we were recommended to really do our best to further her education, so we managed to send her to Oxford and she’s done extremely well. She’s a really talented rower – she’s an Oxford Blue. She read Geography and graduated with a first, so we’re really proud of her. She’s done her Masters now too. In her last year at Oxford, the University took her to Columbia University in New York where she co-wrote a paper on global warming. She’s just had a gap year, helping to build schools in Tanzania.
My youngest daughter Holly goes to St Johns and she’s just been made head girl. I’m terrifically proud of my kids. Obviously the good looks come from me!
How do you cope living on opposite ends of the world?
Well you know, electronic communication is wonderful these days and we spend a lot of time on Facetime. It makes things a lot easier and they can call me up at anytime whether it’s to have a chat or to ask me how to spell a word. It’s really marvellous.
Speaking of which, you used to do quite a bit of writing, what’s happened to your blog?
I really enjoyed the blog and it’s something we’re going to start up again. I’ve got this crazy sense of humour and I’ve always been a closet writer – if something amuses me, I keep it in my head for writing down later. A lot of the stuff I write is taking off people, it’s all just amusing hogwash really. I’m definitely going to write again. Roy and I sat down in 2006 and we’ve written a book – we called it “The Police Story”. It’s about a chief of police called Boknaai Bezuidenhout, which sort of gives you a bit of a flavour of the story. It’s finished and will be published in a year or so.
Tell us a little about Harry’s Son?
Harry’s Son was found by James Bester, he’s a bloodstock agent. He found the horse and got us to have a look at him because he thought he was a real athlete and I’ve got to take my hat off to James. We looked at the horse and just loved him, so pugnacious Phil Georgiou went to the breeders and negotiated a price with them – I think he knocked them down a bit! From day one, I’ve said this is the best 2 year old I’ve ever worked with.
They say good horses train themselves, is Harry one of those?
Absolutely. Any races he’s won have been despite me and anything he’s lost has been because of me! But seriously, what a wonderful horse to work with. He’s really turned things around for me and my training. And what a pleasure to have in the yard. He’s built like Mike Tyson, but is the most laid back horse you could ever wish to work with. He’s totally bombproof – he threw a shoe cantering down on Sunday and it didn’t phase him a bit. And he’s sound as a bell – touch wood – the vet doesn’t even know what he looks like.
Where to from here?
We’re going to send a small string to Cape Town for the summer season – we’ll be aiming for the Guineas and all that. We’ll obviously have to see how things map out, but at this stage we don’t know where the boundaries are and we’ll just have to see where we go. His fit, he’s sound and he’s entire, so we’ve got a lot of options.
What a pleasure to have an entire that’s so easy to deal with.
Absolutely. I’m very slow to geld – if anything, that’s probably my biggest fault. One tries to balance things out, but I honestly need a sedative when they geld my horses. I know that some horses improve for it, but Nijinsky was reportedly a difficult bugger and can you imagine if they’d gelded him?
You obviously have a very busy schedule with training your string as well as your presenting duties – how do you balance it all?
You’ve only got one life, that’s my motto. I believe if you’re good to people, then they’ll be good to you. I’ve never panicked about money – I believe when you have it, you should spread it out and it will come back to you when you need it. I’m a very fortunate person, I have great friends and that goes a long way to helping keep everything together. I’m also an agent for Magic Millions. I know I go on about this, but they are wonderful people. I travel over there three times a year to go to their sales and quite a few of my good horses have come from there, including Harry’s Son and horses like Goldie Coast and Flying Loot. I’ve also got the Magic Millions MD, Vin Cox into a Var filly here called Garibondy, so it’s all good fun.
How do you compare the Australian bloodstock to our local horses?
Well the Aussies export more than we breed, but South Africa breeds some wonderful horses that are good enough to compete anywhere in the world.
Is there anything that people don’t know about Paul Lafferty that you think they’d find interesting?
I’ve been a vegetarian for about 8 years.
Is that for ethical or health reasons?
All of the above really.
But you’re not a teetotaller?
Heavens no! Luckily you don’t have to kill any animals to make beer!