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Thursday, November 30, 2023

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The race that all owners want to win – the Hollywoodbets Durban July

The 2022 Hollywoodbets Durban July winner and Mike de Kock-trained Sparkling Water, with S’Manga Khumalo up, crossing the finishing line at Hollywoodbets Greyville. Picture courtesy of Gold Circle/Candiese Lenferna.

The 2022 Hollywoodbets Durban July winner and Mike de Kock-trained Sparkling Water, with S’Manga Khumalo up, crossing the finishing line at Hollywoodbets Greyville. Picture courtesy of Gold Circle/Candiese Lenferna.

Published Feb 28, 2023


By Andrew Harrison

It’s seldom that a person criticised, and in this case somewhat ridiculed in the press, does not take umbrage and accepts what was written with good grace.

The butt of a recent article about supporting bad horses, although not named, recognised himself immediately. However, to his credit - and I must admit to some relief on my part - he’s still talking to me. “Good on you mate” as the Ozzies would say.

However, his attitude is in direct contrast to some owners who take umbrage when advised by their trainers that their horse is a little bit too slow.

Not all owners take kindly to being told that “Lightning” should rather be named “Snail” or “Three-Legs”.

As a wag once put it to me: “Say what you like about your partner, but say anything about their horse and it becomes a personal insult”.

A leading trainer, who runs a most professional yard, commented that being honest with owners can be to the detriment of your business.

It has cost him many a horse. He says what hurts the most is that often the horse was not taken out of training, but rather sent to another yard where the owner was soft-soaped and strung along by the grateful recipient of “Snail”.

He recalled an instance where he had a horse that had no end of problems and was hardly ever sound. He eventually advised the owner to retire the horse from racing as the vet bills were piling up and there was little prospect of the horse winning another race. The owner took offence, and the horse was shipped to another yard. It still hasn’t won or even run a place.

Obviously, this puts trainers in a difficult position, especially those who are battling to make ends meet and suffering under a myriad rising costs and unpaid training fees.

They are aware that the owner is likely to move their horse to another trainer if they say anything, leaving an empty box and a consequent hole in the budget - so why not string the owner along to your benefit, rather than keeping a rival in business?

It’s something of a moral dilemma facing the trainer. A touchy owner is his own worst enemy - and as the dearly departed trainer Anne Upton once put it to me, “a trainer’s worst enemy is the owner’s best friend” as they always have an opinion, but don’t bear the costs.

But an owner who refuses to acknowledge that he has a slow horse will soon sour to the game. This is firstly because the horse is slow and the glory of a visit to the winner’s box is but a pipe dream; and secondly, because a slow horse eats just as much as a fast horse and costs the same to keep, without any prospect of a return.

In essence, owning thoroughbred race horses is an expensive hobby. If you expect profit or even a financial return on your investment, forget it. You own a racehorse because you love the sport.

The carrot is the potential to earn big and win fame and fortune, like at the Hollywoodbets Durban July. You are in it just to get stable information to hopefully bet on a winner - or your horse happens to be good enough to win a few races with your trainer steering you in the right direction.

But as an owner, you would be a blind fool not to heed the expert advice of your chosen trainer.

After all, you employ your trainer as much for their training ability as for their knowledge and advice in matters equine - from getting the horse to peak fitness to placing it in the right company.

It is far better to cut one’s losses and try again with another horse, than to keep paying training fees and jumping trainers on a dud in the hope that you may fluke a result.

This is not to say that all trainers are on the level, but if you trust the one that you have chosen, whether for their ability or personal charm, then you as an owner deserve what you pay for.

For all things horse racing, visit the Gold Circle and Gallop websites.


“The people's horse” certainly did bring it on - and what a career it's been! One of the only horses to win both the Hollywoodbets Durban July and the World Sports Betting Cape Town Met is now retired to stud.