Ten Years Older – But Corne Now Looking To Summer Cup

'The son of Rafeef is sound as a bell' - trainer

Saturday’s gutsy Gr2 Topbet Mike O’Connor Joburg Spring Challenge winner William Robertson is one of the soundest horses in the Corne Spies yard.

Muzi Yeni gets William Robertson home as After The Rain (Diego De Gouveia) comes right back at him (Pic – JC Photos)

Despite top jockey Smanga Khumalo dramatically getting off at the start of the Turffontein feature, the veteran trainer says that there are no hard feelings and all roads now point to the Gauteng Summer Cup.

“Racing can be a rollercoaster of a game some days. It takes us to cloud nine and before we know it, dumps us right in the mud. When Smanga got off William Robertson at the start, I think I probably aged ten years. It’s tough enough winning Grade 2 races on any given day, without having a jockey change his mind at the start! But we respect that it’s Smanga’s life and limb and his prerogative, no matter how unpopular it may be, to make the call. But thankfully the course Vet Dr Bawden had the courage of his professional conviction to make a decision in a pressure situation. And Muzi Yeni, what a soldier! He never blinked or hesitated,” recounted Corne Spies in a chat with the Sporting Post on Monday, after his jockey had baled at the start of the Gr2 Topbet Mike O’Connor Joburg Spring Challenge

As to understanding Smanga Khumalo’s concerns, Corne says that he had not spoken to the former champion jockey but that his agent Monty Mariemuthoo had been in touch.

“William Robertson is genuinely the toughest and soundest horse in my yard. I can only think that he stood in a hole or maybe stepped awkwardly en route to the start. He certainly came back fine and I had a long hard look on Sunday. I couldn’t find anything. This morning Dr Melandie Taljaardt gave him an intensive examination and he is sound as a bell. But they are flesh and blood and not machines – so there are no green or red lights to guide us either,” laughed a relieved Corne.

Nelly and Mzi Nkabinde (Topbet) on the winner’s podium with a relieved looking Corne Spies (Pic – JC Photos)

William Robertson started favourite and won the feature by a quarter length. We asked Corne whether his charge was stopping in the closing stages as the flashy grey After The Rain looked dangerous late.

“That’s an interesting question. If one watches William Robertson in the closing stages in relation to the third and fourth horses, then he is clearly not stopping. So that means After The Rain put up a really courageous showing to come back so strongly. And, while I initially thought William would go away late in the race, it is also a reality that Muzi went quite early on him into the home straight. It’s very difficult for any horse to maintain that anaerobic momentum for 600m. So looking at things in perspective, I’m very pleased with the outcome – to put it mildly!”

So where to now for the Ridgemont Highlands bred son of the exciting Rafeef?

“I’m thinking about the Summer Cup. He has won from 1100m to 1400m and is possessed of smart speed. But I believe that given the right kind of ride, he could get the 2000m. His sire is outstanding – having produced Gr1 winners from 1000m to 2400m. So who knows? I’d certainly like to give him  a chance to prove me wrong!”

On the prospects of a tilt at the Cape riches, Corne suggests that the L’Ormarins King’s Plate could be the right race.

“I don’t have the depth in my string right now to locate to the Cape for any extended period of time. If we do go, we will raid. But for now, it seems best to go the Charity Mile route into the Summer Cup – and then weigh up our options thereafter.”

Corne has an experienced team, including his legendary Dad Tobie, former jockey Fransie Naude and Charlene Tucker. “My team, including my Grooms, are top notch. I’m very fortunate.”

All smiles! A delighted Muzi Yeni had the courage (Pic – JC Photos)

He has three barns at Randjesfontein and says that he has a substantially smaller operation than in the pre covid years. He has gone from a peak of 160 to 60 horses.

“But so have many guys scaled down. I would have waited years to get three barns at Randjes in years gone by. Look at the Vaal – it’s probably at 50% or less capacity. So it shows that we have all felt the effects of the recent past.”

A thinking man, Corne says he is worried about the racing economy and it all hinges on stakes.

“Better stakes mean more people are prepared to spend more cash on acquiring horses, which influences breeders to breed more horses, which has the effect of raising the equine population. This means better fields and improved turnovers, and thus more fiscal octane into the racing engine. At this juncture, I must take my hat off to the Cape guys. They have started by improving stakes and incentives. So the ball is rolling and there is some really good momentum down there. Look at the improved attendances and turnovers – that doesn’t happen unless they are doing something right! I hope our administrators up here can do something soon.”

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