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Dan De Wet

Dan De Wet

The name De Wet is synonymous, in South Africa, with good wine and top racehorses. Dan de Wet has done the family name proud by breeding some of the top names in South African racing and, perhaps, the most famous name of them all, Pocket Power. Dan is genuinely humble about his achievements as a breeder. Not to be outdone he is now optimistic about the future prospects of the really promising filly Hammie’s Hooker who looks to be on the road to glory. Dan is quick to sing the praises of trainer Mike Bass and his team and also to owner Marsh Shirtliff who has done his homework and looked for the gems from Zandvliet. Dan is a progressive breeder but, at the same time, does not interfere with the way nature intended things to be. Right now Zandvliet’s hopes lie with Hammie’s Hooker but racegoers may be assured that many more ‘plums’ will be coming from  Zandvliet.     

What is your name and age?  Dan and I’m 59 years old.

What is your star sign and birthdate? 27 August 1953, which makes me a Virgo.

Where were you born? Montagu Hospital in the Cape.

Where do you live? My wife, Kosie, and I live on our family estate, Zandvliet, near the town of Ashton in the Cape.

Tell us about your family?  My wife, Kosie, is a professional tennis coach. I have 4 children. My eldest daughter, Jeanne, is with Investec head office in Joburg as Marketing Manager of Wealth and Investment.  Sadie is with Checkers head office with brand team and marketing. Emma is with M1City Hospital where she is studying nursing. She got the highest honours of all first year students in South Africa.  Daniel matriculated last year at Paul Roos Gym and is currently in Australia where he spent 6 weeks with Tim and Cherryl Roberts learning the trade at present with Widden Stud . He also spent an amazing week with the horse whisperer, Heath Harris, stunt coordinator for ‘The Man from Snowy River.”

Do you have a ‘nickname’? Not really, not that I know of.

Favourite book?  Apart from the Thornbirds I really enjoyed the Sven Larson Trilogy. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.

What are you currently reading? I am busy with Hunger Games.

Favourite movie? I would not like to single out one particular movie. I think great movies are about star roles played by great actors. Liza Minelli in Caberet, Marlon Brandon in the Godfather, Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest; Ben Kingsley in Ghandi, John Hannah in Four Weddings And A Funeral; Roberto Benign, In Life Is Beautiful; Michael Douglas in Wall Street; Anthony Hopkins in Meet Joe Black.

Favourite food? Fresh West Coast Oysters wrapped with Smoked Norwegian Salmon is the most decadent  starter you will ever eat. Fresh Fried Hermanus plaat Steembras as an entrẻe and AB Sirloin Steak, medium rare,  with large grilled black mushrooms and  baked potato, dripping with butter and topped with sour cream and hot English mustard.

Favourite drink? On Sundays we normally have traditional “Sunday”  lunch and at 12 o’ clock we all have a gin and tonic, crushed ice, a slice of lemon and a twig of mint. French Champagne’ must be the closest  thing to my mother’s milk.  Zandvliet  Kalkveld Shiraz, 2008, with my grub.

Favourite music? Now we talking! I loved the music from the 60’s-80’s. The Beatles, Rodriguez, Jim Cocker, Creedence Clear Water Rival, Tom Sawyer, Roy Orbison, Queen and Shakiro.

Favourite sport? My favourite sport used to be rugby but they have really screwed up the game. At school we were taught to get the ball to the fastest man on the field, the wing. On the way to the wing the centres had to sidestep,  scissor and do grubber kicks to outwit the opposition. Nowadays! Let me rather not go there. Cricket in all its forms, especially the commentaries and women’s tennis especially the moaners and groaners and athletics. I wish Neil  Andrews would bring back “Super Saturday.”

Are you interested in soccer, if so, which is your favourite soccer team? Not really. If I had to choose a team I’ll be loyal and say Bafana Bafana.

What is your favourite holiday destination?  In my dreams. Definitely some deserted island sipping daiquiris. Hermanus or Namibia.

The De Wet name is immediately linked to your farm, Zandvliet, and ultimately your business. Who was the first owner of the farm and when did it come into existence?  In 1695 Jacobus de Wet (forefather) arrived from Amsterdam as an official of The Dutch East India Company where he became the cellarmaster.  Zandvliet is proclaimed and named as a 5000 morgan entity by the Cape Colonial Government. In 1870 it was purchased by JS De Wet (great- grandfather) who divided the property between two sons during the latter part of the 1890’s. This was the birth of Excelsior (Stephen, Freddie and Veronica de Wet (Foulkes), Prospect (Malcolm and later Louis de Wet) and Zandvliet (Paul Johannes). My brother Paul and I are the 4th generation.

Your father, Paulie, was a huge personality who was largely responsible for the reputation Zandvliet gained as a producer of great wine and of breeding wonderful racehorses. What were some of the lessons he taught you about both the wine industry and of breeding horses?  Just for clarity sake my father did not produce dry table wines as we know them today. In those days, 40’s – 70’s,  he produced sweet Jerepigo desert wines and distilling wines. My father was a meticulous perfectionist.The vines had to be planted exactly right, the lambs were the fattest, and the horses fed only the best home-grown lucerne, and the magnificent pastures the lushest. Only the best grade oats were imported from the Freddie Duckitt in Darling. (The oats in Darling has high quantities of copper, the Robertson Valley being deficient). He instilled in me that there were no shortcuts and dedication to duty will produce positive results.  He could never understand why anybody would want to play golf- surely you must be neglecting your business!  Hence my high handicap.

As a young man which aspects of the farm appealed to you most-the winemaking or the breeding? As a kid I enjoyed all aspects of farming at Zandvliet. I spent a lot of time with Dad walking through the mares. As I got older there was a natural gravitation to the stud and the mares. I remember the visits of George Faull (Charles) the specialist vet of those years. The boot of his car was a mess and he only wore white shirts and grey pants.

Your brother, Paul, is the winemaker. Is this because your talent was for breeding horses and he really enjoyed the wine making? Paul studied Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. It was he that capitalized on the ‘romance with Shiraz’. My stint at Coolmore cemented my relationship with horses. This was as it was supposed to be.

Name some of the top horses which were bred on the farm when your father was doing the breeding? Dad did his own “rectals” with his own brand of flare and a bit of poetic license. In 1954 NOBLE CHIEFTAIN (Nearco) was jointly acquired with Malcolm de Wet. He was a famous horse, Champion Sire for three consecutive seasons, Champion Broodmare Sire and gave the stud access to every avenue of the breeding industry. The first yearlings were offered at the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society during 1954 and here GALLICAN realised 500gns and later won 10 races for Reggie Passmore. Dad bred many top horses. 1948 to 1956, 18 top horses incl; Golliwog, 8 wins, Lampadist, Filarix, Catcar and Master Green. 1957-1977; 4 Individual top winners incl; Peter Beware, Caradoc, Sunshot, Gold Water, HomeTruth, Don Cossack, Cornice, Davy Jones, Django, Bannerlad, White Oak, Termoli, Wild Ash, Lawn, etc. 1978 – 2000 when I took over 62 top horses incl; Smackeroo, Moccasin, Wild  West, Harry Hill, Coolstar, Susan’s Dream, Fast Gun, Golden Globe. 2001- 20012 Swartland. Pocket Power, River Jetez-(self appointed ‘technical’ breeder),Vertical Takeoff and Hammie’s Hooker.

Which has been the top stallion which has stood at Zandvliet? Noble Chieftain, Champion Sire, Champion Broodmare Sire.

It has never really been your policy to stand a stallion. What is the reason for this? I wouldn’t call it policy. After Noble Chieftain, Dad and I never had a top sire on Zandvliet. Bad stallions weaken the quality of your broodmares. Any breeder would give their front teeth to stand a top proven stallion. Without having to support a resident stallion, I can now make a specialist selection, hand-picked, for my particular mare. The trap that one can fall into is to eventually cover all your mares with a resident stallion whether they suit or not. I call that ranch-breeding and unprofessional.

How many mares do you have on the farm at the moment?  I currently run 23 of my own mares and about 34 with a Dubai connection.

Obviously the name that stands out amongst the many top horses which have come from Zandvliet is that of the mighty Pocket Power. Tell us how you came to breed him? I had purchased his dam, Stormsvlei, for 20 grand. She had a nice outcross pedigree and was a perfect genetic match for most of the top sires of the day. Enter JET MASTER. My ‘Tesio’ did a double summersault when paired with Stormsvlei and armed with 12k the mating was booked. It is easy to be wise afterwards but Jet Master, a great performer on the turf and a great looking horse, just had to make it. Zandvliet sent three other mares that first year. Pocket’s pedigree abounds with excellence and balance, the ultimate mating.

Did you ever regret selling Pocket Power and not keeping him for yourself? We are in the business of selling and there are no regrets.

Is it possible to say which of Pocket Power’s victories gave you the most pleasure? I suppose it only sunk in after he won the Winter Triple Crown. He was a specialist at Kenilworth but I was never comfortable with him at other tracks. Fayd’herbe always had to remind him about his business, once  into the straight, but when he commenced his run he was awe inspiring.

The dam of Pocket Power is Stormsvlei who was also the dam of River Jetez. Do you have any female relatives of Stormsvlei who you will be able to breed with? Sadly not.

 If you had the chance to breed with River Jetez which stallion would you put her to? Speak into the mike hey! Captain Al, Western Winter, Jay Peg,Trippi, Seventh Rock, and Var and probably in that order.

River Jetez is now at Avontuur and she will probably go to Var. From a breeders viewpoint how successful do you think that mating will be?  Var is a top sire and an introduction of raw speed to her first foal is good thinking. Mares generally should not be judged negatively on their first foal. I do however think she went to stud too late.

You got it absolutely spot on when you put the Damascus Gate mare, Gem Queen, to the new sire Trippi. As we now know the result of that mating is the sensational filly Hammie’s Hooker. What prompted you to that mating?  Again, I have always been excited when I see a certain look in a pedigree. She has duplications of Tudor Minstrel which will probably limit her stamina to a mile. Nice reoccurrences of a top matriarch, Natalma, and, of course, the ever-presence of Northern Dancer x2  nicely tucked away in the guts of the pedigree. She is plain, and quite a big mare, and he is a handsome Adonis.

By today’s standards the R360000 paid for her by Messrs  Shirtliff, Ressell and Jooste looks very reasonable. Was there a reason she did not fetch more or was it because Trippi was, at that stage, relatively unknown as a sire? Gem Queen, by all accounts, could have been regarded as an average mare. I suppose an average price was to be expected.

Will you be putting Gem Queen back to Trippi or don’t you believe lightning will strike twice in the same place? For sure, watch this space.

Do you have any babies out of Gem Queen on the ground at Zandvliet. If so tell us about them?  She has a pretty, neat, Jay Peg colt and he is entered for the Cape Sale 2. She is in foal to Lateral.

Have you been to the track to watch Hammie’s Hooker work and how impressed were you with her? Yes I have seen most of her races and have been impressed with her calm business like approach to racing. Once she has homed in on the horse in front of her she gets into cruise control and takes command of the final 100m of her races. She is fortunate to be in a yard of the calibre off Team Bass.

Tell us about some of the other babies you have on the ground at Zandvliet and about those you feel very optimistic about? I have 3 outstanding yearlings; Captain Al ex Scorched by Jet Master for Cape Sale 2. A Trippi filly ex Sweetveld by Al Mufti. A Lateral filly ex Manna Born.

How many ‘babies’ do you have right now? 14 of my own and two with partners.

What is your breeding policy? Luckily breeding has no boundaries and rules. Every breeder can therefore etch his own style of mating and if he does happen to breed a decent horse then he is the master of his own destiny. If I had financial access to the top sires I would obviously use them more readily. I think Timeform ratings  of over 120 is important for young stallions as long as they are from the top local or international sirelines and not some flash in the pan wannabe. The Thoroughbred breed is becoming increasingly interbred with the likes of Northern Dancer and care should be taken how he is structured in the pedigree. There are the obvious pitfalls of unsoundness that certain sires pass on. Identify them and know how to manage them in a mating.  I have never been keen on ‘top line male’ inbreeding and will need more than this article to explain my reasons. Of course there are a lot of top horses bred like that but if you, for instance, take Northern Dancer, my question is, how many times internationally has this been done and at what strike rate. I also love to duplicate great mares. There is nothing that I enjoy doing more, on a cold winter’s night, than to sit back behind my “Tesio” armed with a good red from the estate and to plan the future generation. Then all the excitement, anticipation and long wait to see how the baby develops.

If the stringent import-export controls are lifted how will it affect your business? John Lennon sometimes lets us dream. Imagine!

Have you changed the way you bring up the babies on the farm, in any way, especially when it comes to feed, due to the fact that buyers generally seem to be looking for horses that will win early?  In my dad’s day breeders had a lot of trouble with epiphysis’s then called ‘big knees’. That was as a result of an imbalance of the calcium/phosphorous ratio mostly because they overfed lucerne or had young horses grazing lush pastures. I will never push a young horse. Feeding to push a horse for a sale won’t make him run faster.

You do not race many horses in your colours. Which is the best horse you have ever raced in your colours?  It’s been so long ago I can’t remember! My dad raced many fillies in his colours.

When did you get you racing colours? They’ve lapsed.

Apart from Pocket Power and River Jetez which would you rate as the best horses you have bred at Zandvliet? Caradoc, Peter Beware, Wild West.

Which is the most exciting moment you have had in racing to date? Pocket Power’s dead heat with Dancers Daughter in the July.

Have you any ideas as to how to bring more people, be they owners, punters or generally just those who like to watch horses racing, back to the racecourses? One of my gripes is that the only racing channel is rated R18! That’s as bad as porn. How can you nurture the youth with that sort of stigma? I have always advocated ‘a week of match racing’ and “Auction racing.” I wrote to the powers that be with a blueprint. They did not bother me with a reply. The latter will give all people, rich or poor, an opportunity to own a racehorse, plus all the glitz and glam, albeit just for an hour or so.

The saying is, “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman”. Does this apply to Dan de Wet? Under, on top, behind it’s all true. I asked Kosie to marry me when she was nine. She told me to wait 12 years. I waited. She is level headed and a great sounding board. She is great with the kids and is as beautiful as the day we married.

What’s your favourite phrase? The fruit of your loins.

Do you have any hobbies?  I do like to do a bit of hunting in winter and normally make about 120k boerewors. Angling and deep-sea fishing whenever I can.

I have heard that you are fond of outdoor entertaining  and cooking? I have hosted the Wacky Weekend guests to the farm for a number of years and personally oversee the braaiing of whole fresh Norwegian salmon and prime sirloins served with all the fanfare. Di Doms (Saratoga Stud) and I got through to the regional knockouts of Ultimate Braai Master which is currently being screened on TV.

Apart from managing the stud what other duties do you have on your property? I am ops manager of all outdoor activities including citrus, the vines, and all the haymaking processes. I run the central computerised irrigation system and control the RWM (Reduced Water Management). This means that we monitor the irrigation of the vines whereby at a certain stage water is withheld. This has the effect of slowing down the cell formation inside the berry and therefore resulting in a smaller berry packed with high fruit extract and superior quality.  

Do you have anything else to share with readers on the special bond between Marsh Shirtliff, the Bass family and yourself over the last decade? I met Marsh via Pocket and I would typify him as the ultimate ‘Racing Man’. This is a guy that likes to watch his horses train at least twice a week, spends a lot of time at the stables and on racedays is more often than not well groomed and has one of the most beautiful women (Karen) in SA on his arm. He punts and bets, buys and sells and everybody wants to be his racing partner. Marsh is successful because he works at it.  If we all had a bit more ‘Bass’ blood in us we would all be better people. Mike, the skilled tactician, Candice, the calm and calculated and Carol, the ever present support structure make up one of the most powerful training teams anywhere in the world. The Marsh/Bass combo has produced, from stock they have sourced from Zandvliet- breds over the past 10 years…6 winners, 47 wins inc 4 ‘Mets’, 4 Queens Plates, 1 ‘July’. The 5 kilometre strip between Zandvliet- and Normandy Stud have produced 6 Queens Plate winners in the past 7 years. Winter Solstice, Pocket Power and Mother Russia.

Who can be regarded as mentors who have shaped your breeding career?  First and foremost, my father Paulie who was a master salesman and dedicated horseman. Secondly, Willie Jooste , who was stud manager during my youth. He was a precisionist and loyal to  the bone. Thirdly, Simon, stockman at Zandvliet in the early years who could identify the mares in the dark of night.

Name one of the most memorable events that took place in the ‘foaling box’? Two weeks ago a mare was foaling down with a ‘redbag’. This simply means that the placenta was separating from the uterus too early thereby possibly depriving the foal of oxygen while still in the mare. The feet protruded and when the nostrils came into view she was snorting under the membrane trying to breath!  I ruptured the membrane and she was desperately fighting to live. The foal, still in the mare with only the nostrils and feet sticking out, now had a fit. Then she  went quiet. The night watchman and I pulled and pulled what felt like forever to get the “dead” foal out. After a few minutes had  passed the foal, with a very deep girth, presented itself, lifeless. But, the heart was beating strongly so I started resuscitating her mouth to nostril with my Dunhill Lights breath. I refused to give up and after 10 minutes, and me nearly passed out, she gave a huge breath and started breathing little by little. She then had another fit and her heart raced frantically.  I had summoned Dr. Giliomee who immediately administered drugs to this lovely Fort Wood filly. It took two days for her to learn to drink on her own. A most rewarding experience.

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