Buddy MarounBuddy MarounTributes are pouring in from around the world on the death of top South African trainer Kevin “Buddy’’ Maroun, who passed away in tragic circumstances in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Monday. He turned 51 years of age on Sunday, one day before his untimely death.

Buddy fell gravely ill at the weekend suffering from septicemia which turned into gangrene and spread through his body. He was admitted to hospital on Saturday night and then transferred to another medical facility, where he was placed under heavy sedation in intensive care. Surgical procedures were performed to clear infected parts of his body.

In his typical, tenacious fashion, Buddy fought extreme pain and a high fever until the very end. He died at approximately 12pm SA time.

A supremely talented horseman, Buddy was long recognized as the “undisputed king of sprinters’’. He took out his trainer’s licence in 1992 and sent out a flow of winners for almost two decades, among them groups of sprinters of more or less the same age who raced together for extended periods of time and won multiple feature races between them.

He was terrific in getting the very best out of every horse, masterfully judging weights, race figures and later merit ratings. He placed his horses with an uncanny shrewdness, making the majority of his individual sprinters multiple winners, even those with moderate ability.

The “Buddy Maroun factor’’ was often referred to by his rival trainers and a legion of supporters, who stood astonished for many years as Buddy lined up his sprint machines time and time again to win, sometimes twice a week, often improving within a matter of days and winning even more convincingly despite huge allocations of extra weight.

While he had his critics, not a single one could point a finger at the condition of his horses. They were impeccably turned out without fail, shiny-coated and sound, never looking unhappy to be at the racetrack.

Most famous of all was Golden Loom, or “Goofy’’, who won 22 races in the 1990s and 2000s, and Al Nitak, acquired as a two-time winning stayer and turned into a sprint legend who won 11 more races including the Grade 1 Golden Horseshoe.

Other sprinters won with almost monotonous regularity in careers stretching up to 10 years, including Fov’s Favourite, All Will Be Well, Noble Thatch, Greek Warrior, Geordoba, Come Thunder, Alarm Call, Fanyana, Time Goes By, Escobar and Vega. Many of them were owned by his leading patron, Andre MacDonald.

Although Buddy in recent years concentrated mostly on the speed merchants, his versatile talent stretched to middle distances and marathon trips. He won several classic features and stayers handicaps, including the FNB 1600 with Follow The Falcon and the Gold Cup with Highland Night.

A distraught Louis Goosen, assistant to Buddy over the last few years, said: “Buddy and I shared many special moments together and went through ups and downs. He was a special person and the best horseman I ever worked with. He loved horses, he loved racing. I am bitterly sad.’’

Said Mike de Kock, speaking from Dubai: “Buddy was a master of his trade, a world class trainer who had no equal as a conditioner of sprinters. He was probably the most hardworking trainer in South Africa and he never got involved in the politics of racing, doing his own thing and concentrating on his horses.’’

Alec Laird commented: “Buddy was well respected in the training ranks. He was a no-nonsense type of guy and his death comes as a big shock to us.’’

“Buddy was a magic trainer,’’ said Joe Soma. “He kept to himself, respected others and the loss of his skills is a big blow.’’

Outgoing Phumelela Racing Executive Graeme Hawkins described Buddy as “one of the great horseman of the modern era’’ and added: “South Africa has lost one of its greatest trainers under tragic circumstances. He will be sorely missed.’’

Another tribute came from owner and close friend John Finlayson, who over the last year spent much time with Buddy on the training tracks. He said: “He spent hours teaching me patiently how to judge the potential of a horse by analyzing its eyes, it was amazing. Once he spent a full four days with me explaining the ins and outs of horses. He had a work rate second to none, I personally saw him riding close to 50 horses on an average morning.

“Another thing not everyone knew about was Buddy’s love for and instant success with racing pigeons. He enjoyed them immensely and showed them to very few people.’’

Finlayson added: “Buddy had gone to Argentina to find and buy horses. He hadn’t really travelled before and was looking forward to his trip, I had to point out some of the logistics of overseas travel.

“He was excited when I phoned him last Friday night and said he had found three magnificent specimens. But he was in an awful lot of pain too, he could hardly talk and I urged him to see a doctor. I am most upset with this unexpected tragedy.’’

Finlayson concluded: “Buddy had just revamped his yard with some spectacular additions and improvements. There was a group of strong owners behind him, we had big plans for the immediate future.’’

Buddy is survived by his wife Claudia and their 15-month old son Aiden, and an older daughter Leolita.

Click here to watch this tribute to BuddyMaroun.

Extract by Charl Pretorius from freeracer.co.za