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Stuart Pettigrew


Stuart Pettigrew (photo: JC Photos)

Stuart Pettigrew (photo: JC Photos)

Having retired from professional riding in 1981 and paid his dues in the assistant ranks, Stuart Pettigrew ventured out on his own in 1991 and has quietly and steadily carved a niche for himself from his Randjesfontein base.

The words at the top of his webpage read ‘Hard work. Dedication.’ He has also found success by believing in horses that others might pass over and with three Gr1 successes already to his credit, looks to have found another ‘good ‘un’ in Tony Ruffel Stakes winner, Surcharge.

About Stuart

Stuart was born in the UK, but immigrated to Africa with his family when he was 6. The racing bug bit early. “My Dad worked for Borrowdale Park. Kids were allowed, so my brother and I went racing at a young age. My brother wanted to be a jockey and went to the Academy and then I went too.”

Stuart’s older brother Graham also rode successfully for a number of years and then moved back to the UK, working as a work rider for the Mark Johnston yard.

Stuart joined the Academy in 1977, alongside the likes of Kevin Shea and Grant Kotzen. He rode for 4 seasons, ending on a high as champion apprentice in Rhodesia and then hung up his boots. After working as stable employee to Keith Chant in Zimbabwe, Stuart joined Roy Magner for 9 years and finally went out on his own in 1991. He got a barn at Randjesfontein and has been there ever since.

The yard

Stuart has a yard of 50 stables, although he’s not currently full and it’s something of a sore point. “It’s hard to get owners and the smaller people are battling. At the moment I’ve got 36 horses, 19 are in training and the rest are unraced 2yo’s. I’ve had 19 winners this season, I’ve got a win percentage of 19% and my place statistics are 58% and I just can’t get horses,” he exasperates. “I won the Summer Cup with Tyson, the SA Fillies Classic with Spiced Gold and the Germiston November with Golden Globe. I’ve won Gr1’s and I’ve been consistently good every season, but people want to be with big names.”

“A trainer is only as good as their horses and there are some very good trainers out there, capable trainers that can get horses to where they need to go and they don’t get opportunities because they’re having to train bad horses and then get branded bad trainers.”

Gr1 CV

Stuart has earned a reputation for getting the best out of a horse and particularly with making the most out of some unlikely – and inexpensive – prospects. His first Gr1 win came just four years into his career, when he saddled the Zandvliet Stud bred Golden Globe to a Germiston November Handicap win over the mighty National Emblem in 1995. Golden Globe was a R18k purchase on the National Yearling Sales, who Stuart describes as a lovely, big strong horse. “He eventually won 10 races – you don’t see that too often anymore,” he remarks. “I’d only been training for a few years and we won the Germiston November Handicap. It was run at Germiston in those days, before it closed and the race moved to Newmarket. He was my first Gr1 winner and won as a longshot, beating National Emblem.”

Next came Tyson, the wonderful son of Silvino out of a daughter of Sledgehammer, who won the 2004 Gr1 Gomma Gomma Summer Cup. Tyson was another bargain purchase who was led through the sales ring and bought back by his breeder for R20k. “He was a wonderful horse,” remembers Stuart. “He won 7 in a row at one stage including the Summer Cup. He eventually won 10 and was then sold to Dubai.”

His most recent Gr1 triumph was with Spiced Gold who won the 2010 Fillies Classic. The daughter of Kahal cost the princely sum of R50k. “So that’s what I have to win Gr1’s with,” says Stuart proudly, “Not R1 million, R2 million, R3 million horses, imports or anything like that. I train very cheap horses.”


Surcharge wins the Gr3 Tony Ruffel Stakes (photo: JC Photos)

The Varsfontein-bred Surcharge (Gimmethegreenlight – Congestion Charge) was the first lot to be led through the ring for the 2016 BSA Val de Vie Yearling Sale. Not attracting the attention he deserved, his breeders took him home and offered him as lot 48 at the 2016 BSA National Yearling Sales, where he was knocked down to Ian van Schalkwyk for R200k.

How did they pick him? “Ian goes to every sale. He looks though the catalogue and selects what he likes on pedigree. I go as the trainer and try and pick out any faults and if I find any, Ian takes them off the list. If I’m happy, it’s a combination of him on breeding and me on a combination of conformation and experience.”

How does Stuart find his gems at such bargain prices? “First of all, budget automatically takes a lot out of my looking equation. I look at the lesser bred horses, so I’m looking with the guys with the smaller buying power and the smaller trainers. The big guys never look at my horses – they’re not good enough for them,” he says flatly. “If I see a horse that’s a lovely specimen, I put that into consideration before the breeding. If a horse is well bred, but not a good specimen, I won’t buy it, but I will take a chance on a nice specimen. That’s how I pick.”

What made Surcharge catch his eye? “It was just the way he was brought to the sales. He was an imposing, beautiful specimen of a horse and what really caught my attention was the way he walked. He’s a great, great walker and everything’s in the right place.”

Stuart has done all the work with Surcharge, including starting him under saddle and prepping him for the 2016 CTS Emperor’s Palace Ready To Run sale. “We did not push him and just did enough to get him on the sale to qualify for the sales race and then buy him back. I actually had 7 horses on the sale and bought them all back.” Why go the sales race route? “For that sort of money, it’s a good sale,” he says honestly.

Early promise

Surcharge wins the Listed Secretariat Stakes (photo: JC Photos)

The colt repaid all their early faith in him and Stuart said he showed ability from the day they started doing fast work with him.

“I thought he would win first time out, but he ran a good second” (over 1200m at the Vaal on 6 June 2017 under Gunter Wrogemann). Surcharge then threaded together three wins in a row before taking his place in the Emperor’s Palace Ready To Run Stakes on 4 November, jumping from starting gate 15 under Piere Strydom. “I believe he could have won the Ready To Run if he’d drawn well,” Stuart muses.

He bounced back to win the Listed Secretariat Stakes under Gavin Lerena on 2 December, followed up with the Gr3 Tony Ruffel on 3 February and now has 5 wins and a place from his 7 career starts.

“Ian and I have discussed every run and after every race, we sit down and discuss the run and look at the programme and decide what we want to do and where we want to go. We discuss everything together. His mission for this season was the Tony Ruffel, the Guineas and the Classic. That’s all that’s been discussed so far and after the Classic we’ll speak again.”

“All the owners in my yard are very important to me – whether they have one horse, 50% of a horse – they’re all equally important, but my biggest supporter has been Ian van Schalkwyk. Without him I wouldn’t be training a horse like Surcharge. Ian is my biggest client and has most of the horses in my yard.”

The two have a longstanding relationship that began many years ago. “We just get on like a house on fire. He’s got a lot of respect for me and I’ve got a lot of respect for him, I listen to what he’s got to say and he listens to what I’ve got to say. Everything we do, we do together.”


Piere Strydom (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Piere Strydom (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Surcharge has also registered most of his wins under Piere Strydom. “Piere’s ridden a lot of winners for me,” says Stuart. “Piere knows what I like and what I dislike. At the moment he’s riding very well for me, and while he’s riding well, he’ll continue riding for me.”

Good looking

Commenting that like many Gimmethegreenlight progeny, Surcharge is a particularly good looking horse. “Have you ever seen an ugly good horse? Good horses catch your eye. He’s a special horse and catches everyone’s eye. I don’t know why he didn’t catch anyone else’s eye at the sale, but thank God he didn’t!”

Although it’s still early days, are there any aspirations for sending him to stud? Stuart explains that the colt has an exceptionally good pedigree and confirms that they will try to keep him entire as long as possible. “I’m not quick on gelding, but if I feel a horse needs it, I will. He’s not coltish, he just likes his racing, goes in and does his job.” Which makes life a lot easier.

The rest of his string are young horses and Stuart says emphatically that he is not a 2yo trainer. “I don’t need to push 2yo’s, so at this stage it’s too early to tell if any of them will be anything.” Of his older string, he picks out Walter Smoothie. “I think he could be a Derby contender.” Soldier On is pronounced “a nice horse. He won one and ran 2 places from 4 starts and ran a very good 2nd last time,” he says with satisfaction. There’s a promising filly called Gottalottaluv who has placed second, second and first who Stuart has earmarked as an Oaks contender, although he is quick to emphasise that he means contender, rather than indicating that she might have designs on a cheque.


Nicolas (photo: Pettigrew Racing)

Nicolas has been with the yard for 17 years (photo: Pettigrew Racing)

Stuart is also sponsored by Hollywood Bets, who he says have been a valuable support. “They supply us with books on race day, overalls for the grooms – I think they’re great. My assistant, Nicolas Titise, loves it. He goes to races with his Hollywood shirts and caps and always refers to them as ‘my sponsor!’”

Outside of racing, Stuart is married to Lauren for 31 years and they have a son Ryan, who manages their website. “He loves his racing, but has never been involved in the yard. The two of them are the biggest supporters in my life.”

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