GARETH VAN ZYL, son of trainer Gavin, has two passions in his life. One is horseracing and the other is his faith in God. Those who know him well will say that this is what makes Gareth the fine young man that he is. According to Gareth, his dad Gavin, did all he could to keep him out of the racing game but it is in Gareth’s blood and he absolutely loves it. He recently made the news when being credited with a fine debut win by MOTOWN which had been plagued with unsoundness problems. Gareth is now well and truly on fire and together with his dad and brother Chesney form a formidable trio of van Zyl’s running their yard. With Team G now coming to the fore we will be sure to be hearing and seeing a lot from this trio. Gareth is fast making his mark and WINNING FORM will be following his progress with great interest.
What is your name and age? Gareth Harrison van Zyl, 26 years old.
What is your star sign and birthdate? 7th May 1986, which makes me a Taurus.
Where were you born? Johannesburg.
Where do you live? Assagay.
Tell us about your family? I come from a family background where faith in God comes first and horseracing second.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? Niba. In standard 7 my friends reckoned I nibbled at my food, so they called me snibbles, which became Niba.
Favourite food? I hope my wife would agree, but I really don’t think I’m a fussy eater. Many various foods have crossed my mind as I’ve considered the question!
Favourite drink? Probably, a fresh fruit juice.
Favourite sport? 1. Horseracing, 2. Tennis, 3. Golf, 4. Soccer.
Favourite soccer team? Chelsea FC.
Favourite holiday destination? Anywhere with snow. I love the snow and if I had the opportunity to do more snowboarding, that would be right up there amongst my favourite sports.
Your dad, Gavin, was a top jockey and since turning to training is doing extremely well. Was it always the plan that you would work with your dad and then, eventually, to take out your own licence? Tony Rivalland was kind enough to take me on as a stable hand when I finished matric. My dad was riding for him at the time. My dad tried as much as he could to keep me out of racing, but with such a deep rooted love for the game, the inevitable happened!
What did you do straight after school? I worked for Mr Rivalland and then served a two year voluntary mission for the church I belong to. The best thing I could have ever done.
How did it come about that Chesney, who is younger than you, took over the stable’s satellite yard in Gauteng? With my dad keeping me out of racing, and Ches continuing in it, he was more experienced when the opportunity presented itself.
MOTOWN recently went up to Gauteng and won his maiden on the sand. Your brother, Chesney credited you for the hard work you put into MOTOWN. Tell us about your involvement with him? That win ranks with the best moments I’ve had in racing, up there with BOLD AL’s maiden win. MOTOWN had come to the ‘end of the road’, so to say, when I resumed responsibility for his fitness. He is plagued with such lameness issues, that had Dr Ralph Katzwinkle not stepped into the ownership of the horse, the partners would not have continued with all the required veterinary treatments for him. So with Dr Ralph helping with his soundness, the very frequent use of Alistair Gordon’s horse pool, and carefully planned flat work programmes, we managed that very momentous win. I also rode MOTOWN a lot of the time in his sprint-ups to monitor his fitness and soundness in order to adjust his programmes accordingly. I highly doubt I will ever forget that win. It confirmed to me the belief I have always had in myself, but which I hadn’t yet been able to prove.
Your father has started the brilliant initiative of the Team G Racing Syndicate which now has 90 members. Tell us all about it and how involved are you in Team G? It’s a brilliant concept and a great asset to our local horse racing industry. There are a lot of people having a lot of fun in the syndicates. It’s buzzing with excitement, and it is only just finding momentum. I have developed good friendships with quite a few of the shareholders. My dad gives my number to those who want to see their horses at the track or stables, so from a business perspective I guess that would fall under the ‘customer care’ column, but in Team G Racing it’s just making them a part of the team.
Arguably, your best three-year old currently is SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE who led throughout to win the SA Classic but suffered an injury since. What was the injury and tell us about his progress? It was a chip of the near fore fetlock joint. He is recovering well and is an absolute pleasure to work with. He is progressing as expected and after a few weeks he will leave his box and resume the rehabilitation process.
In your opinion, how good is he and what are the future plans for him? He is better than we have yet seen. His immediate plan is to go to Cape Town for their summer season. I hope to see him represent us abroad.
ETON SQUARE just won his maiden in May but has flourished unbelievably well since. He recently fought back doggedly to win the Grade 3 Jubilee Handicap and has been supplemented into the July by the stable. Was he always highly regarded and what problems did he have as he was rested for 27 weeks? Yes, we have always held him in high regard. He had a hair line fracture of the pelvis. I’m waiting with much anticipation to learn more of him!
Do you feel that he could be up to the standard required to win the July, bearing in mind he has only run four times? Definitely. (Admittedly, I do at times struggle to separate my feelings from my thoughts).
SHOGUNNAR is another of the stable’s promising younger horses. He handled the rise in class very well to finish third behind Jackson in the Daily News 2000. Tell us about him and his rise to prominence? What sort of a horse is he to work with? He kicked the treadmill as a two year old and fractured a small bone in his leg, hence the reason for his delayed appearance on the tracks. He is a very lazy track horse. Very few could have guessed that he was going to surface as he has, but my dad held a strong regard for him all throughout and I’m reminded of the great opportunity I have of learning from my dad.
You and Chesney are both shaping as top trainers in the making. Are there any plans of another satellite yard being set-up by the stable in the Cape? My dad plans on taking a string to Cape Town for the Cape Summer season, but nothing permanent, that I know of. But with my dad… expect the unexpected!
Which of your older horses do you have high hopes for? SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, ETON SQUARE and two 3yo maidens who have had injury woes.
Which are some of your promising juveniles that the public can follow? FRANNY, LIZZY GREY, BAY PRINCESS, HEAVENISARACEHORSE, SNAPPY LAD and GRAY’S CHAMP.
What has been the most exciting moment you have experienced in racing to date? There have been many very exciting moments in racing for me, but Bold Al was the first horse that I bought. His maiden victory was unforgettable.
What are your immediate ambitions for yourself in racing?
To become more knowledgeable and to be a better horseman.
It is known that your dad uses Mark Tarry to help him with the picking of babies from a bloodline point of view. How interested are you in breeding? Very. I’m obsessed with trying to identify top racehorses at as young an age as possible. Mark is a great asset to the team, he has more knowledge than us in this specific field and we benefit by employing that knowledge.
After the sales do the babies go to a spelling farm or do they come straight to the stables? We’ve used both methods. This year they went to spelling farms. This game is not an exact science!
Apart from racing what other passions do you have? My family come first. That’s because of my religious beliefs on which I try to centre my life.
You and your wife, Kirsten, are now the proud parents of a baby boy, Dallin. Have you started taking him to the stables and, even at his early stage, do you think racing could be a good life for him? One early morning, he was probably not even two months old yet, mom was just exhausted and “Boo Boo” wanted to play. I wrapped him up and took him to the track. He spent the morning with me, I was so proud! It definitely could.
What is your opinion on the NHA’s decision to stop betting operators from sponsoring trainers? I can understand the negative connotation this might hold. However, when considering the Premiership football teams sponsored by bookmakers and our races sponsored by bookmakers, I am brought to consider if the bookies are looking to put a little back, perhaps it should be acknowledged.