Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH
Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH

Eight-times SA champion trainer Mike de Kock says  Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum’s decision to wind down his Australian operation was “not totally unexpected in these tough economic times, but that any downsizing here [SA] will hopefully be to a fairly limited degree”.        

De Kock is SA’s best-known trainer and figures to February 4 show he has saddled 3,478 winners with 126 grade 1 successes. He has won races in the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and the UK.                      

To that tally can be added Saturday’s grade 2 WSB Gauteng Guineas at Turffontein where the sheikh’s colours were carried to victory by R4.4m buy Malmoos.

“The sheikh is one of the world’s great owners and the numbers are huge and can get out of hand. There  comes a time when they have to be trimmed and one would call it a prudent business move,” said De Kock on his 57th birthday.

“As far as SA is concerned, I believe Angus Gold [the sheikh’s racing manager] and I have done our best and moved horses on when it has been necessary.

“The game plan has always been to send horses to the Dubai carnival and that’s where we have come up against the quarantine protocol hurdle. I believe not being able to export is something the sheikh has not been happy about for some time.”

Back in March 2019, De Kock, who has never been afraid to voice his opinion on any subject, told the media of his frustrations with the never-ending negotiations.

He said: “We have a horse [Hawwaam] that can take on the best in the world, but we are being held back by quarantine protocols. While we have everything in place we are desperate, with our caps in hand, for the EU to inspect us so that we can show them what has been done, show them that the protocol is in place and that we can go and showcase our product to the rest of the world, including Hawwaam.”

De Kock and Gold have managed the SA string well, producing the sort of results that would delight the most fussy Premier League owner.

The ill-fated Soft Falling Rain proved a star in Dubai and Rafeef, a son of Redoute’s Choice, won six races including a grade 1 and is now at stud in the Western Cape.

Aussie import Soqrat, a son of Epaulette, has also retired to stud after winning seven races and more than R3.5m in stakes.

Just eight days ago, De Kock introduced a smart three-year-old in Al Sakeet (a son of  Var) who skated home by six lengths in the Sheikh’s famous colours at the Vaal racecourse.

Hawwaam, a son of champion sire Silvano, is now in the safe hands of trainer William Haggas at Newmarket. After partnering Hawwaam to victory in the 2019 Premiers Challenge in April, jockey Anton Marcus quipped: “I don’t often say this, but I’m at a loss for words. That really was impressive.”

One would say Marcus and top English jockey Ryan Moore are similar personalities. Being the excellent horseman that he is, Haggas will have already identified Hawwaam as a horse with quirks. De Kock once said: “He wants to be the man, a horse who wants to be boss.”

SA racing fans will monitor the horse’s progress in the UK carefully to see whether he is up to holding his own in group races.

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