Horses jump a fence during a hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, western England. Picture: REUTERS
Horses jump a fence during a hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, western England. Picture: REUTERS

Five-times champion trainer Geoff Woodruff has decided to leave Johannesburg and return to the Cape where he first started training in 1988 with just 14 horses.

Born near Epsom racecourse in the UK and a point-to-point champion there in his youth, a case can be made for his inclusion in the sport’s hall of fame.

He has won the Durban July twice and has saddled a number of champions including Jet Master, Star Effort, Yard-Arm, Elusive Fort and Badger’s Drift.

Woodruff's warm personality has endeared him to many over the years and he has mainly not got embroiled in any racing controversies. However, in his interview with the Sporting Post, he did make his feelings felt on the current state of the sport.

“I would love to see racing under one umbrella — one body of people pushing for the betterment of the game. We must promote the whole game rather than one region over another.”

Woodruff was referring to friction between Phumelela Gaming & Leisure and KwaZulu-Natal bookmakers which has resulted in several court cases.

When it has come to the Durban July there has always been provincial rivalry between horses trained in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, but Woodruff is not certain it is a good idea to have the 2020 race at all given the pandemic.

On the subject of the welfare of horses during Covid-19, he has a firm viewpoint. He is concerned that a loss of income will affect many people and is worried about the care of the animals.

“I could never condone healthy horses being put down for financial reasons. Try to hang on and give that horse a chance because euthanasia cannot be viewed as a viable solution because it is not.”

Woodruff hit the headlines with his small Milnerton yard in 1988. His first five runners were all winners. He is on record as saying his philosophy with horses is easy.

“You must get them eating as much as they can, they must sleep well, work hard and enjoy it.”

Bookies did not sleep too well when Woodruff saddled big-race runners and he is in no doubt that the best horse he has trained is Jet Master, who went on to be a successful sire.

“People use the word freak but he was exceptional in that he broke the course record for five furlongs in the Cape Flying Championship, which he won by five lengths with contemptuous ease, just three weeks after winning his second Queen’s Plate.

“He had two wind ops while still with my brother-in-law Tony Millard. I know people say that he would have been 10% better otherwise, but that would have made him the best horse in the universe.”

Woodruff's late father-in-law Terrance Millard offered valuable advice and the family dynasty is in good hands with Terrance’s son, Tony, a successful trainer in Hong Kong.

In Cape Town Woodruff will team up with his daughter Lucinda, who more than held her own in the Cape training ranks last season. It will be a formidable father-and-daughter combination.