Uncle Den Calls It A Day

At 77 he has certainly earned a break!

Summerveld master conditioner Dennis Drier has announced his retirement from training racehorses.

He said: “There are many who are under the impression I will be training a small string in Cape Town, but I will not be. I am handing over the reins to Stuey (Stuart Ferrie) and have no doubt he will be a success.”

Dennis Drier – over a half a century of service to racing (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

He explained: “I am 77, have been in this job for 55 years, and the game is not like I used to know it. There are too many politics and too many ego’s, and I also battle these days to deal with the disappointments. I have appreciated what Greg Bortz and Hollywood have been doing for the sport and hope they succeed in taking it back to where it was.”

Drier learnt from the best.

He started out in the late 1960 as assistant trainer to his late great uncle, Syd Laird, who is South Africa’s only Hall Of Fame trainer.

Still today when faced with a tough decision he will usually take his mind back in time and think what “Uncle Syd” would have done under the same circumstances.

He was with Uncle Syd for nine years and this period of his career was packed with the highlights brought by greats like Mazarin, Politician, Yataghan, Archangel, Ocean City and others.

There was also one memorable lowlight when a disgruntled punter attempted to attack Syd Laird in the parade ring after the 1972 July because of Mazarin’s unplaced run. Dennis intervened and was smashed in the face with a pair of binoculars.

Dennis started out on his own with about six or seven horses.

He married Gill, who was the daughter of the Oppenheimer’s trainer John Breval, and this might have been one reason why he later became the Oppenheimer’s trainer.

He trained for the Oppenheimers for twenty years with success, including winning the July.

However, the biggest single blow to his career came when they decided on a change of trainer and he lost 32 horses in one morning.

However, he certainly bears no grudges and said he gets on famously with Mary Slack and Jessica Jell today and added, “They have been very good to me.”

He said about the blow of losing those horses, “My owners buckled down and I was able to make a recovery.”

It was more than just a recovery because he became the perennial KZN champion trainer this millennium, and was often locked in a ding-dong tussle for the title with Mike de Kock and later with Duncan Howells.

Drier’s career best achievement will be go down as his phenomenal success in Grade 1 races at Hollywoodbets Scottsville.

His first Grade 1 success there was with Spook And Diesel in the 1990 Smirnoff, today known as the Gold Medallion.

Twenty years later Drier began dominating this two-year-old Grade 1 winning it with Link Man in 2010, Potent Power in 2012, Captain Of All in 2013, Guiness in 2014, Seventh Plain in 2015, Sand And Sea in 2017 and Tempting Fate in 2020.

Brilliant Captain Of All wins the Tsogo Sun Sprint (Pic – Gold Circle)

His other Scottsville Grade 1 victories were with Sound Of Rhum, Val De Ra and Sommerlied in the 1994, 2011 and 2018 SA Fillies Sprint respectively and Captain of All in the 2015 Tsogo Sun (Golden Horse) Sprint, for a total of twelve Grade 1s at the Pietermaritzburg course, ten of them within that amazing eleven year stretch.

However, Drier’s personal best moment was when winning the country’s biggest race, the Durban July with Spanish Galliard in 1992.

The two most successful horses he has trained have been Beach Beauty and Val De Ra, both of whom have wonderful stories attached to them.

Beach Beauty was chosen by Dennis from Trevor Armitage’s farm and she was to race for the “Shanks Syndicate” in memory of Trevor’s late son Mark.

The tiny Dynasty filly was viewed by Mark’s family and best friends, who formed the syndicate, as more of a cute pet to pat when she first arrived at the Drier Summerveld yard … that was until she displayed an eyecatching burst of speed to win over 1450m on debut at Clairwood.

She went on to become a five time Grade 1-winner and “the darling of the South African turf”, because in every one of those Grade 1 wins (two Paddock Stakes, two Garden Provinces and one Majorca Stakes) she was regarded as the meeting banker and never once let the public down. She would have won more Grade 1s if not tackling the Met twice and the July once. She was twice the Equus Champion Older Female.

Val De Ra was a phenomenal sprinter with exceptional natural speed coupled with a turn of foot, but she first had an epistaxis incident as a two-year-old and later was critically ill with peritonitis. She came back from death’s door to win three weight for age Grade 1s, the Computaform Sprint, the SA Fillies Sprint and the Cape Flying Championship, and was named Equus Champion Sprinter of the 2010/2011 season.

Master Of My Fate

Master Of My Fate (Jet Master – Promisefrommyheart) – one of his best

However, Drier regards the unsound 1992-born Harmony Forever (Foveros) and current successful sire Master Of My Fate (Jet Master), whose career was cut short by injury, as the potentially best he ever trained while he said Spanish Galliard was the “gutsiest”.

Owners have enjoyed being with the Drier yard over the years not only for Dennis’s fine professionalism and fine horsemanship, but he is also a gregarious personality, so clients became good friends.

However, this also made the ups and downs harder to bear.

Gill is a fine horsewoman in her own right, so added immense value and did a lot of the admin, whilst Stuart Ferry was a hardworking, trustworthy assistant whose friendly demeanour fitted in perfectly.

Loyal jockeys like Sean Cormack and Sean Veale were also vital cogs.

In Drier’s letter to his clients he saluted ‘Menz’ and ‘Nxys’, his longtime loyal grooms, and said there were too many others to thank to mention.

Dennis Drier’s popularity can be summed up by him being known throughout the industry today simply as ‘Uncle Den.’


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