Author: Duane Fonseca

WHERE THERE’S a will, there’s a way!

And South African trainer Mike de Kock seems to have found a solution to the stifling restrictions that have robbed him of much success over the years. De Kock, the most successful international carnival conditioner outside Godolphin circles, has been forced to scale down on operations in the UAE due to the horse movement protocols in place to curtail the spread of the much dreaded African Horse Sickness that is native to South Africa.

But light appeared to have finally emerged at the end of the tunnel last year when he decided to stable a few here through the summer. He left Najem Suhail, Marshall, Celtic Voyager and Majestic Mambo behind and in September picked up two new additions from the ERA Racing in Dubai Sale featuring Godolphin castoffs.

De Kock picked up Magical Land and First Order for Dh120,000 and Dh50,000 respectively. And with what appears to be a sextet, he will target next year’s Dubai World Cup Carnival (DWCC), which starts in January, looking to add to his tally of 185 UAE winners. De Kock has been flying to and from Dubai from his base in South Africa to check on his stock here and their progress during the preseason and reported all is well.

“In and out of Dubai is probably a lot of what I will be doing this year,” De Kock explained. “We’re quite busy at home, but I try to be here every second or third week. It’s not a big deal getting out of South Africa with the flights, but it’s a big deal with the Covid tests.” The big deal for De Kock is that his horses will be more race ready this season than in the last few campaigns as they would not have picked up the usual rust that comes from having to spend months on the road without any action, mostly in quarantine.

Protocols concerning horses travelling out of South Africa require trainers to move their horses to destinations in a roundabout manner and if De Kock needs one from his stable back home, he would have to move him from Johannesburg to Meydan, via Mauritius and the United Kingdom. Fortunately, he has had plenty of time to work with the majority in his small equine team at Blue Stables.

De Kock plans to dispatch turf sprinters Najem Suhail and Marshall in the 2022 DWCC. The pair haven’t raced for over 500 days and were due to sample action during last season’s carnival but their late arrival did not give De Kock sufficient time to have them ready. “Najem Suhail and Marshall stayed back in Dubai through the summer.

They were here a bit late last year and they weren’t going to be fit enough to run so we pulled the plug early,” De Kock explained. “But they’ve done extremely well and I’m really glad we did keep them here during the summer because they look exceptional. They both are quality sprinters with an edge. Najem Suhail looks like a Group One sprinter.

He reminds me a lot of Shea Shea who won the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint for us in 2013. I’m not saying he’s a Shea Shea, but he’s that type of an explosive horse. We are so looking forward to how they go because they have a good sprint programme here for sure. I think the first or second meeting of the carnival is where we are at with him.”

A number of UAE-based trainers and owners have benefitted from the Godolphin sales in the past and De Kock believes with a bit of work his new pair could shine. Magical Land and First Order were bought for De Kock’s UAE representative Mohammad Mardood’s Blue Racing Syndicate and other partners, including De Kock himself.

“They are a work in progress,” said De Kock, who went winless last season after consecutive campaigns in which he cashed in once each. “Obviously, it was a culling sale from Godolphin so it’s not likely that we’re going to be picking up Group One winners, but you’re certainly going to pick up horses with potential and fantastic pedigrees.

“They always have issues that need to be ironed out but when you’re spending Dh120,000 and Dh50,000 you’re obviously going to buy horses that are going to take a little bit of work. But it’s an exciting project and we have syndicates involved and enthusiastic people who just want to enjoy themselves.

“We are trying to get people interested in the carnival at the end of the day. We have not lost faith in getting horses to the carnival and getting involved in the carnival. “I’m a great fan of the carnival racing in Dubai and so we want to get that and try and spread it around a bit. We want to get more youngsters, new owners and syndications, more people involved and hopefully they can come through and we can send the horses down to Australia to race.”

Majestic Mambo is yet to score in 11 UAE starts, but has two runner-up placings to his name, including the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship in March. And De Kock believes he is seeing a new horse since the 7yos ownership changed hands. “He ran a cracker last time in Abu Dhabi and he’s now owned by Bridie Cadan and she’s been excited and enthusiastic about it.

I think he has a handicap in him and he just looks a lot more enthusiastic this year. So let’s see,” said De Kock. The 57yo handler is just as optimistic and enthusiastic about getting his campaign underway in the Emirates and has started to feel the buzz Dubai has to offer yet again. He said: “If one looks at just Dubai itself, without the racing, after Covid and all the other nonsense that’s gone one in the world, the place is buzzing.

“This place, it just doesn’t sleep. I think Expo2020 Dubai is giving everybody that extra bit of a boost and hope. This is a place and a city that makes things happen.” It will be interesting to see what De Kock can make happen over the next few months.