Trainer Gary Alexander is packing for Australia
By: David Thiselton
DURBAN - Gary Alexander will be setting up a joint-training partnership with brother Dean later this year in the village of Gifford Hill 75km from Adelaide in South Australia.
It will be business as usual for the brothers for although Gary's name is on the trainer's license for their Turffontein-based operation it has always been a family affair.
Duncan Alexander, a legendary lightweight jockey who was born in Scotland and immigrated to South Africa shortly after the War, took out his trainer's license in 1975 after hanging up his riding boots but when he became ill in 1978 his son Gary took over.
Gary and Dean quickly took the business to great heights.
Gary recalled, "The stepping stones, first from jockey to trainer and then me taking over at a very young age, were a lot different from somebody who was succeeding an established trainer. The first couple of years we picked up the pieces but from then onward we did exceptionally well. By the year 2000 we had 160 horses in training."
The brothers have trained 15 Grade 1 winners.
They are a close- knit family and sister Julie, popular as an outstanding Tellytrack presenter, has been involved in the administrative side of the yard. However, she will not be immigrating with her brothers.
Gary and Dean have made many friends and contacts over the years in Australasia as regular buyers at the Australian and New Zealand Sales.
Gary said, "We are known and greeted out there as the Alexander brothers."
Among the New Zealand-bred horses they have trained are Clifton King, who won both the Grade 1 SA Guineas and Grade 1 Germiston November Handicap, Timber Trader, who won the Grade 1 SA Derby, Ruby Clipper, who won the Grade 1 Allan Robertson among other stakes races, Lady Of The Turf, who beat Young Rake when winning the Grade 2 Gold Bowl, and Brutal Force, who won the Grade 2 Skeaping Trophy.
Their current five-time winner Ration My Passion is also New Zealand-bred. The Alexanders' first Gold Bowl winner Mosszao was Australian-bred and the race was a Grade 1 back then in 1996.
South African and Australasian friends of the brothers will be supporting their venture.
They might inherit a few horses from other yards in the beginning but will be attending the Sales to build up their string.
The presence of two South African ex-pat jockeys, Barend Vorster and Karl Zechner, will help them feel at home.
Vorster rides for South Australia's leading yard, Tony and Calvin McEvoy, and is lying third on this season's South Australia Jockeys Premiership table with 38 winners.
Zechner is lying in 14th place with 16 winners.
South Australia has one established Metropolitan racecourse, Morphettville in Adelaide.
However, the new racecourse development, Murray Bridge, which is in Gifford Hill, will compliment Morphettville. This season Murray Bridge has been allocated two Saturday Metropolitan meetings among the 21 meetings in total.
The Alexanders will be based at Murray Bridge, which reportedly has world class, state of the art facilities.
The racecourses in Australia do not have false rails.
Gary said, "In all racecourses without false rails the pace is generally faster. The racing is also situated at the coast. But we are working with animals so we will just have to adjust to those changes and also to the tracks and to different riding styles."
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The control of racing is also very strict.
Gary and Dean will both be taking their families over.
Gary's family consists of wife Danica and children Sasha and Johnmarc, who are aged 12 and nine respectively.
The children love being around animals and spend a lot of time at the yard.
Gary said, "I will support whatever my kids want to do when they get older but I would not have encouraged them to pursue a career in racing here in South Africa as much as I would overseas. It has been a struggle for the last twenty years over here and during the Covid period we have lost a number of horses and owners. Things are expensive in Australia but the stakes compared to costs are very good. Overseas if you get the breaks and are good at what you do I think you can do really well. I think trainers also get a lot more recognition overseas and are better respected in their countries than we are out here. It has not always been like that, in the old days the George Azzies and Syd Lairds were legends."
Gary has previously applied to train in Hong Kong and Singapore but nothing materialised.
He said, "I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity especially at my age and I am very excited and looking forward to the challenge. It is God's will and we will do it."
Gary estimated they would depart for Australia in April.