Mike de Kock and Charles Laird
(Heather Morkel/Kayleigh Leisagang/Rock Cart)
Those that follow these things will remember the blanket finish our top three trainers found themselves in last year this time. The final throw of the dice revolves around the Champions Day meeting on the last weekend of July each year, and anyone with a realistic chance of taking a title, whether trainer, jockey, stallion or breeder can make a last lunge for the laurels here, and get away with it, such is the prize money on offer.
As the big day approached last year, Charles Laird held a marginal lead over Mike de Kock and Geoff Woodruff, as formidable a trio of horsemen as you’d find anywhere. And on a day of ups and considerable downs, Geoff Woodruff revealed what a man he is by leap-frogging two of the world’s best exponents of their art in the last big race of the year, the KZN Derby. Don’t worry, boys, we know the pain. Who could forget that at the self-same gathering in 2004, Summerhill twice snatched the lead in the Breeders Championship in the course of the day, with epic victories in both the Juvenile Grade Ones, only to be denied in the Champions Cup, the last race on the last day of the last week of the racing year! Maine Chance were the heroes, and we couldn’t have gone down to a better outfit.
The tightest contest this season revolves once again around the trainers title, and while our old mate Charles Laird holds what seems a comfortable advantage of half a million Rand odd, you can never count Mike de Kock on the ropes till the Big Lady’s had her say. Our relationship with the Laird family goes back to father Russell’s era, where mutual admiration of the “old way” led to the acquisition of two exceptional performers in First City and Gun Drift, the latter a winner of the Computaform Derby. Since then Charles has trained any number of very serious campaigners associated with the farm, including National Emblem, his best son, Nhlavini, Bianconi, Pick Six, Amphitheatre, Decorated Hero, Princely Heir, etc.
Ironically, if his first title aspirations are to be upset, a major contributor from Saturday’s meeting could be the Summerhill-bred (and part-owned) Imbongi, who with Forest Path, could be the biggest prongs in a formidable Mike de Kock challenge. As good a mate as he is, we all know how many titles Mike has won in his time, and we know that while we’ll be rooting like hell for Imbongi, he would understand our need to box in Charles’ corner for his first national Trainers’ Championship. He’s worked his butt off, is a consummate professional, and if he pulls it off, he’ll have had to beat what is arguably the worlds’ number one racehorse conditioner in the process. There can be no greater tribute to either of them, and as the Classics have always stated, “may the best man win”.