One of Cape racing’s familiar faces, but unsung heroes in many ways, Vernie Simons was acknowledged for his dedication and commitment to the success of the industry at large, when the big winner in the recent Shoprite Western Cape Government Farmworker of the year competition.
The prestigious and hotly contested awards turned into a red letter day for the Glen Kotzen Racing Team, when their personnel also took the first three places in the racing groom section.
The Kotzen racing and breeding operation Woodhill Racing Estate, is based on the Voor Paardeberg road in the scenic Agter Paarl. Zonwabele Mtabase (Mazenyo) was placed first with Bongile Dwayi (Squatter) in second and Sebulele Delelendlini awarded third spot. An ecstatic Glen Kotzen said earlier this week that he was proud of his four award winners and said that transformation, upliftment and acknowledgement of staff was the cornerstone of his business.
“We can have all the champion racehorses in the world, but without great staff, we may as well close our doors,” he said. Vernie Simons was crowned Pasture Manager and was the Regional Winner for Horsemanship. Many of us are only ever exposed to the glamorous side of racing. The faces we see are inevitably taking credit for something or the other, or wallowing in the bright warm afterglow of victory. For every individual we may recognise, there are dozens doing the hard work in the shadows.
Willem ‘Vernie’ Simons is one of those men. Born in Paarl 42 years ago, the man who learnt a love of horses at Varsfontein Stud , coincidentally just across the road from where he now works at Woodhill Racing Estate, will be recognisable to many as the backstage manager who ensures that the Kotzen runners get to and from the races safely. His father, also Willem, is the training track manager at Woodhill. His younger brother Frikkie still works at Varsfontein. Vernie was employed at Woodhill seven years ago and is the man to speak to when anything needs sorting out. Besides being in charge of the transport fleet, he looks after the paddocks and does all the maintenance work. He also assists Glen on racedays where the Kotzen runners are transported in their own float.
He lives on the magnificent estate with his wife of 14 years, Florina and his two daughters, Renelda and Chante Lee. A devout Christian, community leader and Western Province rugby fan, Vernie continues in his perfect English, spiced with a broad Afrikaans twang:
“This isn’t a job. It’s a lifestyle and I love it. We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful environment, and while I seldom get away from the office, as it were, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The Kotzens are wonderful folk to work for and we are all one big happy family. I have watched their children grow up in front of my eyes, and have shared many of their personal highlights, like first days at school and bithdays, with them.”
Trainer Glen Kotzen said that Vernie was an invaluable member of the team:
“He is such a capable and talented guy and is punctual come rain or shine. Whether it is a paddock fence, a mechanical issue with the trucks or trotting a horse, Vernie is prepared to roll up his sleeves and get the job done. He is really and truly old school and we are very fortunate to have him on board,” he said.