Dubai Duty Free (Group 1)


9 January - 29 March 2014

Mike de Kock reflected with satisfaction on the just completed 2013/14 Dubai International Racing Carnival. While the stable didn’t send out what has become their almost customary winners on Dubai World Cup night, Mike finished second on the Carnival Trainer’s Log and remains the second-most successful trainer in the history of the Carnival, second only to Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor.

This year Mike and his team at ‘Blue’ Stables saddled 11 individual winners who won 14 races between them for eight individual owners or partnerships, amassing over USD3,2-million in stake earnings. They won a Gr1 race; two Gr2s and a Gr3. Six of the winners were bred in South Africa for wonderful international exposure including Vercingetorix, who won the Gr1 Jebel Hatta.

Mike’s international stable jockey, Christophe Soumillon, enjoyed his best ever season in the UAE, booting home 13 winners, several of them with thrilling displays of the fearless and often unconventional style that made him a renowned talent worldwide.

Mike commented on Dubai World Cup night, saying: “The Carnival is getting more competitive every year, which makes it harder to win. On Saturday we saw winners from Japan, Hong Kong, the UAE, the UK, Ireland and of course South Africa. Trainers from all over the world bring their best horses here and one absolutely can’t compete without top-class runners in the stable. We brought our best to the party and while we didn’t win a race on the night, we prepared Variety Club on behalf of Joey Ramsden and shared his joy although his champion beat us into second. Overall our runners did well, we had two seconds, two thirds and a fifth place from eight runners.

I reckon it’s fair to say we were beaten on merit wherever we had entries. Soft Falling Rain had only one prep run coming into the Duty Free, but he wasn’t far off his best and tried hard to match strides with Variety Club, but Joey’s runner is a true star, he was just too good.

Shea Shea was beaten by a quality sprinter in the year younger and progressive Amber Sky, who doddled a Gr1 Sprint in Hong Kong in January and came into the race at the top of his game. Even if Shea Shea got himself in touch early, I don’t think we could have beaten the winner.

Star Empire was always going to have a big task in the Dubai Gold Cup, but he gave of his best for a good third place, earning Mohammed Khaleel the best part of USD100,000, having also won and earned his way handsomely at the 2011 and 2013 Carnivals.

Mohammed’s had an excellent run this season with his Argentine-bred Anaerobio, who improved nicely with maturity and acquitted himself with distinction in good company winning two races, placing third in the Gr1 Jebel Hatta and fifth in Saturday’s Gr1 Dubai Duty Free.

Vercingetorix made all of us and his South African connections mighty proud. He’s arguably the best thoroughbred to come from our country in recent years - he’s a very good horse and Just A Way, the Japanese runner that beat him, must be exceptionally talented. He sailed past Vercingetorix and if this is a reflection of his ability he will be going places this year.

Sanshaawes just missed the money in the Dubai World Cup, finishing seventh, but we think he would have made the first four with some better luck. With all the excitement around him, he was a bit fractious before the off and got both his forelegs over the stall, which didn’t help. He didn’t have a trouble-free passage either, suffered interference in the race and Christophe believes they would have made the frame if Sanshaawes was able to find his rhythm and a clear run.

Sanshaawes wasn’t disgraced in this company, he’s another horse who did us and South Africa proud at the Carnival, winning on both surfaces and securing an invite to the Cup. He had a few pressing problems after we purchased him and there was a time we were worried he wouldn’t make it to the track, let alone line up in the world’s richest race. He showed his class and courage and provided young Sheikh Ahmed with some exciting moments. We’ll be hoping to find a few more opportunities for Sanshaawes to stake his claim in Group features elsewhere.”

The sad downside of the evening was the death of the stable’s well-bred Mars, who was approaching good form and expected to make his presence felt in the Dubai Sheema Classic over 2410m. Approaching the 1900m-mark, Mars started running around and threw his head up. He veered outwards and stumbled, striking the outside running rail and dislodging jockey Richard Hughes before collapsing on the track. Hughes was taken to hospital for observation. He was found to have fractured a vertebrae, but is reportedly not suffering pain and according to his wife will not require surgery, just a period of rest.

Mike commented: “This was a terribly unfortunate incident for us and it put a dampener on our evening. Sudden deaths like this are very rare among racehorses. The veterinarian who examined Mars suspects that he suffered cardiac failure. He was bought for the stable by Mary Slack’s Wilgerbosdrift Syndicate. We share their sadness, he was coming along the right way and nobody deserves such setbacks, but things like this happen in racing sometimes and the good times will return. I’m pleased that Mary enjoyed a successful day at Turffontein.”

Mike will be discussing the way forward for runners like Soft Falling Rain, Vercingetorix, Shea Shea and Sanshaawes with their respective owners and said: “We haven’t mapped out immediate plans for our leading runners. We’ll be looking at European campaigns for them later in the year, but as always at this time we have some top races coming up in Hong Kong and Singapore where there may be suitable events to compete in.”

He concluded: “At the end of another Dubai Carnival I want to thank our patrons for their valued support. I’d also like to praise and thank my teams of assistants and grooms in Dubai and South Africa for their hard work which often happens under pressure. Our achievements don’t just come about from nothing. This is a massive operation which requires dedication around the clock. The racing public is not always aware how many things go on behind the scenes in a big stable like ours and what it takes to get a racehorse to the track in fit and sound condition. All I can say again is very well done to my staff!”

Mike will be flying to Australia to attend a sale later this week before returning to South Africa. He said: “The Durban season is around corner and I’m looking forward to working with our string of two-year-olds. I think we have a really special bunch. We’ve already seen the likes of Banadeer and Majmu and there are several other promising ones waiting in the wings. Most of our older runners that didn’t go to Dubai last year are in their places and we will be focusing on the younger ones coming through the ranks.”

Extract from Mike de Kock Racing