Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IAN FORSYTH
Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IAN FORSYTH

It is time to induct multiple champion KwaZulu-Natal trainer Dennis Drier into the SA racing Hall of Fame. The legendary 73-year-old saddled his eighth Gold Medallion (grade 1) winner at Hollywoodbets Scottsville last weekend.

The sport does not have to wait until people die before their achievements are recognised. Of those inducted in January 2019 — trainer Syd Laird, Bridget and Harry Oppenheimer, Muis Roberts and the racehorse Sea Cottage — only Roberts is still alive.

Mike de Kock is a shoo-in for induction at some stage, yet his outstanding career has many years still to run and so he will have to wait.

Drier started out as assistant to his uncle and Hall of Fame inductee Syd Laird in the late 1960s. He took out his own licence in August 1977, the month when the world was shocked by Elvis Presley’s death. With Uncle Syd notching seven Durban July wins, Drier made no secret of his desire to win SA’s most famous race but it was not until the famous Oppenheimer colours were carried to victory by Spanish Galliard in 1992 that this dream was realised.

Two years earlier, he had saddled another Oppenheimer-owned horse, Spook and Diesel, to win a grade 1 at Scottsville and everything in the garden looked rosy. Sadly, it wasn’t. The split between Drier and the famous family made headlines in this newspaper, and some doomsayers said it would be a knockout blow for the trainer.

Rewarded faith

They got that wrong, because if this scribe has learnt something in four decades’ reporting it is that many people on the ropes find the resilience of David in a clash with a Goliath. That was the case with Drier as loyal owners continued to send him horses — and he has rewarded their faith with a string of visits to the No 1 box.

Further ammunition to have Drier inducted is that he saddled his 2,000th winner when Hard Core won at Greyville in August 2018. It was one occasion when his steadfast wife, Gill, daughter of John Breval, allowed herself to be pictured with her talented husband.

With his Gold Medallion record as well as the sprinting successes of Val De Ra (11 wins from 13 starts), Lady In Black (2017 grade 1 Thekwini Stakes) and Sommerlied (2018 SA Fillies Sprint), Drier is considered by many as an expert with speedsters but middle-distance champion Beach Beauty (five grade 1’s) is proof of his versatility.

Nevertheless, his Gold Medallion record of eight wins — on the same afternoon Aidan O’Brien was winning his eighth Derby — suggests his dominance of the race since 2010 is similar to Tiger Woods’s one-time domination in golf.

He would be the first to say that his eight Medallion wins pale into insignificance compared with an Epsom Derby triumph. Yet, it is a piece of racing history delivered by Link Man (2010), Val Da Ra (2011), Potent Power (2012), Captain O All (2013), Guinness (2014), Seventh Plain (2015), Sand and Sea (2017) and Tempting Fate (2020).

Regarding Tempting Fate (he had trained both the colt’s sire Master Of My Fate and dam Miss October) he said the Avontuur-bred was the one horse he wanted at the 2019 Cape Premier Yearling Sale. He got his wish with a group of his owners paying R550,000.

One of Tempting Fate’s owners is David Abery who may have been surprised that he was able to purchase a Silvano filly out of dual grade 1 winner Thunder Dance for R680,000 at June’s Klawervlei Farm Sale.

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of Drier has come from a legend of the breeding industry, Mick Goss: “Dennis is worth more than a dozen advertising agencies in bringing fans to the races. It’ll take an earthquake to get him out of the headlines he’s made a habit of occupying.” 

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