Saturday’s Gr3 Magnolia Handicap winning owner-breeder, Cape-based Geoff Van Lear gave the Summer Cup day a major thumbs-up and was thrilled that he had made the long trip North from his Newlands home in the shadow of the scenic Southern Suburbs mountain.
He concedes that his very progressive Var flyer Schippers naturally played a major role in his enjoyment of a terrific day of racing. The passionate racing man is obviously proud of his flagbearer, who he appropriately named after a world champion Dutch athlete, Dafne Schippers.
And there was added emotion and sentiment as Schippers’ dam, the Highlands-bred Fair Rosalind, also won the Magnolia back in 2010 in Geoff’s silks – when trained by Paul Matchett and ridden by Guilermo Figueroa.
Seated with his trainer Geoff Woodruff and family in the RA Room on a sunny Saturday, Geoff described the festive afternoon that saw him celebrate a second Magnolia Handicap success in his relatively short time in the game, as a great reason why breeding and racing horses was one of life’s most rewarding pursuits.
But he also has some serious opinions and thoughts on the role and understated appreciation of the owner – who he suggests often tumbles down the food chain and loses control of his investment after writing out the cheque at the sales.
The 66 year old retired businessman, who spent his working life in the decorative materials and lighting industry, is a Zimbabwean born horse lover who crossed the border to South Africa as a teenager in 1966 with his family.
A showjumper in his younger years, he got involved in owning in 2005 and thirteen years on, after the retirement of his Argonaut gelding Savuti recently, now has four horses in training – two with Geoff Woodruff and two with Shane Humby at Ashburton.
Geoff tried his hand at breeding after the stakes success of Fair Rosalind, a Count Dubois filly picked by himself and his daughter Sarah at the 2008 National Yearling Sale.
He got her for R180 000 and says he has always preferred to select and buy his own horses.
“I’m just that sort of guy. I have never been the type of owner to have others pick and choose my horses. I have enough basic knowledge and it’s all part of the fun of the game. Nobody has all the answers. And sometimes it’s a gut feel that swings the good buy. And then I only have myself to blame when they turn out to be slow!” he laughed.
Geoff has always preached the policy of going to first rate sires, but after Fair Rosalind went to stud he decided to get past the first foal stage by going to Argonaut. The mating worked well and produced Savuti, who won 4 races.
“Savuti had reached his ceiling and I made the decision a week ago to call it a day. He is now happily retired at Steenberg in good company – running around a paddock with Captain America and Run For It.”
It was the decision to go to the best available that saw Geoff send Fair Rosalind to be covered in her second season by super-sire Var.
Schippers was born at Sandown Stud – coincidentally also the birthplace of Summer Cup winner Tilbury Fort – on 11 October 2014. Oratorio and Flower Alley followed and the progeny could soon be setting the track alight in the Van Lear silks.
While he finds the prevailing nepotism in various structures of the industry a debilitating irritation, Geoff is adamant that in order for racing to prosper, the industry needs to focus on looking after the owner.
“It seems to be a perception that if you own horses, you are loaded – and are happy to pay bills as they arrive. That should not be the case. I just feel that owners are generally not treated properly by trainers and vets – and the rest. Communication and consultation are fundamentals in any business. Oh, and it’s an old hobby-horse – but stakes also seriously need to be improved. That’s one reason I don’t race in the Cape.”
Geoff explained that the all embracing more holistically pleasant experience of racing at Randjesfontein or Ashburton had influenced his decision to have his horses based with trainers there.
“I have good honest straightforward relationships with both Geoff Woodruff and Shane Humby. They are two different kind of people, but I work well with both in my own way. I suppose some won’t like it but, while I respect the trainer and the jockey as the professionals, I insist on getting involved in my horses and items like their programmes and progress. Sometimes I may even suggest a change of riding tactics.”
He said that the Cape was not appealing for him – even as an owner who lived only five minutes from Kenilworth Racecourse.
“I mentioned the stakes and the programme – they don’t race often enough. And then there are the training facilities. How much fun can it really be going to watch your horse work at Philippi or Milnerton? I know that the trainers there do a great job and produce plenty of winners. But it’s not my idea of the kind of places I’d like to stable my horses or take my family to visit. I don’t feel that they have the right kind of ambience or create a good impression in their current state.”
Geoff says he is excited about his unraced youngsters and the plan that Schippers is likely to be aimed at the Gr1 SA Fillies Sprint in May.
“Things change with racehorses. They are flesh and blood. My intention is to give her the best opportunity naturally and I believe Geoff Woodruff is the man to take her to better things. I would like to ultimately breed with her as I feel she would make a top-class broodmare one day. That said, we have had a few nibbles and if the right offer comes along I am keeping an open mind. For now I will enjoy the great thrills and fun that she is providing me.”