DURBAN: HE DOESN’T claim to be a horse whisperer and his riding skills are elementary, yet Deez Dayanand’s reputation as a horse racing authority is without doubt.
Over the last 17 years, punters around the world have placed great value on the affable Dayanand’s tips on how thoroughbred horses would fare at the races.
Dayanand, 45, works as a TV analyst and presenter for popular local horse racing channel TellyTrack, which also beams racing action to 42 nations around the world.
When the Pietermaritzburg born and bred Dayanand got on board with TellyTrack in 2000 his pedigree as a horse racing expert was unknown.
The thought of striding onto the sport of kings’ “holy ground” to share his views didn’t weigh him down, said Dayanand, whose only association with horse racing at the time was as a punter.
Like a thoroughbred jumping out of a starting stall, the champion quality in Dayanand kicked in and he has since emerged as a well-known face and a respected voice in the horse racing industry.
When he’s not sharing his thoughts about the races on live TV, Dayanand does work for Racing SA, trading as SA Equine Trade Council.
His duties with the council include looking over the import and export of race horses, horse sickness issues and marketing the sport.
Chaperoning overseas investors visiting South African and attending international exhibitions are some of the other council responsibilities Dayanand is saddled with.
His eloquence and wisdom is required in his role as panelist on two weekly horse racing TV shows, and when he’s required to do guest speaking or giving motivational talks.
With the latest edition of the Vodacom Durban July Handicap just around the corner, Dayanand’s brain is being picked with greater regularity at various public events.
He regards tipping the 2007 July winner, Dynasty, to be his most memorable because he picked the horse well before the race.
When champion jockey Anthony Delpech approached him to be his agent in 2014, it was confirmation that Dayanand’s horse racing expertise was highly rated.
Since that time they’ve enjoyed a rewarding partnership which is loaded with winners, and Delpech landed the KZN’s jockey championship in the 2014/15 and the 2015/16 seasons.
“With about a month and half to go in the current horse racing season, Delpech is in pole position to win the national jockey championship.
“Being Delpech’s agent is very involving work and he relies on my judgement on which horses to ride at race meetings,” he revealed.
Dayanand said it has been a pleasure to work with Delpech because the jockey was a complete professional and they also share a close bond, which includes their respective families.
However, being in the public eye has its drawbacks, including criticism.
“I don’t mind criticism. As long as it is valid, I’m happy to make the changes.”
But genial-natured Dayanand said he prefers to build bridges while going about his wide range of duties, which required him to be associated with people from all walks of life.
“I love to interact with people, especially if they share my passion for horse racing.
“I engage just as easily with punters who are only able to afford a R6 bet as I do with the rich owners, who are able to fork out R6 million at a yearling sale.”
Dayanand said landing the position with TellyTrack was not one he would have put money on.
Back then he was a dedicated punter and it was customary for him to be tuned into TellyTrack at his Riverton Road home in Pietermaritzburg.
The channel advertised a presenter’s position on air, which Dayanand ignored, but not his wife Soraya Naidoo, a medical doctor.
She prompted him to apply, he did so reluctantly and eventually got called for an interview at Greyville.
Respected SABC sports anchor Martin Locke conducted the interview session.
“I went expecting a conventional Q&A session; instead there were lights, cameras, a background and Martin Locke.
“Meeting Martin alone was an overwhelming experience because I regarded him to be Mr Sport in South Africa, such was his versatility.
“He handed me a race card and asked me to take a few minutes before doing a preview, in front of the cameras, for a particular race.”
Dayanand said he didn’t need time to prepare for a preview because he was familiar with racing and just went ahead with his presentation.
“Martin was impressed with my delivery, especially that I didn’t need to do a double take at any stage.”
After further screening and sessions in front of cameras along with other contenders, Dayanand got the job.
“It amazed me because I had no public speaking credentials and now I was going to be on TV with thousands of people watching.
Dayanand said he was confident he could handle the previews but doing interviews was a daunting prospect for him.
“In felt like an outsider thrown in the deep end because the job entailed interviewing owners, trainers and jockeys who I previously revered.
“I was walking on holy ground.
“I needed to interview esteemed owners like Bridget Oppenheimer, Larry Nestadt, Laurie Jaffee, and jockeys like Jeff Lloyd, Anton Marcus, Garth Puller and Pierre Strydom on live TV. ”
But Dayanand overcame the hurdles and grew in the position.
“I’m grateful to Martin, who believed in me and gave me a chance. He became my mentor.”
Dayanand appreciated his wife Soraya for pointing him in the right direction.
“I am who I am because of my wife.
“She’s helped me with many things in life, even with alcohol taking habits.
“We met in a nightclub in 1994 and hit it off immediately; my life has not been the same since.
“My mother-in-law, Soundhree, also played a pivotal role in my success.”
Dayanand is also grateful to his former bosses at Hullets Aluminium, the company that he worked for before becoming a TV personality.
“They were kind enough to allow me to juggle shifts so that I could do my TV work.
“I did both jobs for two years until it became too much, and resigned in 2002.”
Dayanand said he usually spends a minimum of four hours studying a race card before airing his views on TV.
While Dayanand prefers to consider scientific and statistical information before making his predictions, his father Ramjee, who stirred his fondness for horse racing, was a “lucky punter”.
“My dad never studied a horses’ form but just picked numbers.
“Once we were travelling to Port St Johns for a family holiday when we noticed a car had overturned near Umzinto.
“My dad made an unexpected stop at a Tote office in Park Rynie.
“On our return my dad checked up on his bet when he realised he had caught the jackpot.
“He told us he landed the gamble by using the digits on the number plate of the overturned car.”
Dayanand said he enjoyed his childhood, especially living communally with other relatives in their 57 Bodmin Road home in Allandale.
Ramjee’s mother, Mangalli Gayadhin, who was widowed at a young age, took on the matriarchal role in the family.
The industrious Gayadhin, a mother of seven, had to “make a plan” and sold fruit and vegetables from their home for a living.
Her business flourished and she bought the bigger Allandale home, which was extended to accommodate her growing family. By then, her business had progressed to a shop on the corner of Madras Lane and East Street.
Her sons have since opened their own businesses in the same precinct.
Dayanand loved working in his grandmother’s shop and if he were not there he would be out with the boys from the neighbourhood, playing sport or building caves.
On one cave-building mission in thick bush, Dayanand and about 10 friends had to scurry for cover because a swarm of bees had been in hot pursuit.
He enjoyed his days at school and felt he could have excelled academically if he made the effort, but he didn’t.
He pursued a diploma in marketing from the old ML Sultan Technikon in Durban, but with the Greyville Racecourse being located across the road from the institute, horse racing won.