Dubai Sheema Classic
                                Dubai Sheema Classic (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Everything that could be said about South Africa’s big night in Dubai has been said, at least from a racing perspective. But South Africans need to reflect for a moment. This wasn’t just about winning a few big races on another arbitrary big day. When the reality sets in, we’ll begin to realize that South Africa took home the laurels in 50% of the races on what has become one of the world’s biggest three days in racing, and on arguably the best publicized day in all of our sport.

Yet, the enormity of it all goes much further than that. The civilized world has always thought of this country as a pretty little spot (not without its complications, we should add) at the southernmost tip of the world’s darkest continent. Our racing has never really been looked upon by the outside community as anything more than an aberration in the country’s sporting firmament, and like Australia of ten to fifteen years ago, nobody ever really took our racing too seriously.

The truth is, on three prior occasions, South African trained horses have won at least 33% of the races on World Cup night, so this “fifty percenter” was not quite as unexpected to some of us as one might have thought, and was certainly no fluke. Not if you look at the way our horses won, and certainly not if you’re sincere in your appreciation of history.

Of course those of us who’ve been closely associated with the professionals that promote the game at home, have probably always had an inkling of how good our people are, without ever quite believing it. After all, the most sought-after jockey’s title in the world, (and we speak of Hong Kong, where most of the top journeymen of that profession have, at some stage or another, plied their trade,) has been in South African hands for something of the order of 17 of the past 18 or 19 seasons – did you hear that, or did you think you were dreaming?!

And since Mike de Kock, now a folk hero in the class of any victorious World Cup rugby captain, had the “balls” as the Aussies would call it, to test his skills against the world, he’s made the most emphatic statement about our trainers even an optimist of his calibre, could ever have hoped to. The fact is, Mike de Kock is an astonishingly capable man, not only as a horseman, but as a visionary, as an entrepreneur, as a man-manager and a risk-taker. And when it comes to “grey matter”, he’s up there with the intellectual colossi, too, though when it gets down to boxing, he’s been known to come up “ring rusty” on occasions.

Yet Mike de Kock would be the first to acknowledge that when it comes to horsemen, he’s far from isolated. In addition to his victorious compatriot, Herman Brown Jnr, our men and women at home and abroad include numbers of consummate talents in every avenue of equine endeavour, and we guess it’s appropriate to mention our breeders here, too. Those horses that represented us in Dubai on Saturday were, by and large, raised by some quality operators, none more so than Lionel Cohen, whose Sun Classique’s runaway in the Dubai Duty Free was as powerful a compliment to this remarkable man as you could imagine.

And let’s not forget all the adversity which migrants face in their adopted countries, people like David Payne and Jeff Lloyd in Australia, who have once again reminded the world that this country is a front for serious professionals.

Before closing, and since it’s appropriate on the eve of the nation’s biggest horse sale, perhaps we should ask ourselves how South African horses have managed to achieve their international competitiveness with such regularity. We know they’re well trained, and after Anton Marcus’ handling of Jay Peg on a slipping saddle on Saturday, we know they’re well ridden.

But they’d be nothing at all if they weren’t, at the same time, well raised. South Africa’s breeding industry, for all the wealth of many of its players, has never had the market to justify the purchase of the best international genetics. As a result, we must console ourselves with the thought that when it comes to producing quality horses, we’ve had to get up a bit earlier. And that’s where our intimacy with the environment, the skills of our people and the “elbow grease” with our matings, has had to be different. We’ve had to be smarter, we’ve had to be more innovative and as important as any, we’ve had to put in different hours. It’s the only way we can remain competitive, and thankfully, South Africans have never been short on industry and commitment.

For those that live in foreign climes and are possessed of the currencies that quickly convert into millions of Rands, this must now be the most attractive thoroughbred marketplace in the world. So I guess it would be appropriate to finish with a “salute” for Mike de Kock, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, Herman Brown, Basil Marcus, Mike Bass, Lionel Cohen, Etienne Braun, Selwyn Marcus, Marsh Shirtliff, Ascot Stud,Warne Rippon and RMG Syndicate for their courage and enterprise in highlighting the virtues of our horses and horsemen in such an extraordinary fashion.

Posted by Mick Goss