Author: Duane Fonseca

SOUTH AFRICA’S most legendary trainer Mike de Kock has a 2022 plan in mind as he bids to revive his operations in the UAE. Not so long ago, De Kock used to be one of the top performers in the country. He has 185 wins, 153 seconds and 140 third place finishes to show from his 1353 dispatches in the Emirates.

In recent years, though, things have taken a turn for the worse with almost draconian quarantine protocols in place to combat the spread of African Horse Sickness hampering the movement of horses for South African trainers. South Africa’s most successful trainer De Kock has urged the European Union to get its act together and move on with its audit, which was expected to be done in April or May 2020, on export procedures affecting the South African equine industry so that a change to procedures can bring horses from the country to race on mainland Europe easily.

And with Britain’s exit from the EU already affecting all other spheres of industry, De Kock is hopeful that the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) if not the EU will come to the rescue of South African racing. “There’s a hell of a lot of enthusiasm from South Africa but we’re not receiving the same kind of enthusiasm from the EU,” De Kock told Dubai Racing Channel in a recent interview.

“It would probably be easier to negotiate with England than with the EU because the EU quite frankly haven’t delivered on promises. So, in the meantime our industry is ailing. “So, from that point of view if there is no good news by March or April next year then I don’t know if there ever will be.

We can’t drop the ball now and hopefully England will come to the party. I’m thinking they’d be pretty desperate to do deals with everybody and we certainly can contribute to their racing economy basically if we’re allowed to.” For a De Kock horse to run in Dubai, it must spend nearly five months on the road. Here’s the breakup of that tedious journey.

To start with, a horse would need to spend 21 days in quarantine in Cape Town, followed by a further 90 days quarantine spell in Mauritius. From there it would need to be taken to the UK for another 30 day quarantine period and following which it can fly to Dubai only to spend another two days in a quarantine facility here.

That is a total of 143 days lost during which De Kock says it is not just expensive but also very hard to get a horse to be race fit. But now his aim is to have a strong roster for the 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival. “We’re looking to revive Dubai again in sort of 2022 and try and move horses between here and Australia,” he said.

The De Kocks are already well on their way to establishing a base Down Under with Mike’s son Mathew having travelled there before Australia shut its borders due to the global Covid-19 outbreak early in 2020. Mathew moved there last March and was learning the ropes at established Victoria-based handler Robbie Griffith’s Cranbourne yard and that partnership has given rise to a new joint venture titled Griffiths De Kock Racing, according to the Australian’s website.

De Kock Sr explained: “We have Matthew down there so it’s something we’re setting our sights on. There’s no point leaving horses here during the winter and not earning when there’s lucrative stakes as they are in Australia. It’s something that needs to be investigated.

“We were doing it between South Africa and here and Australia to South Africa, but that’s been very, very difficult. So the new game plan is to hopefully try and get Australia going. So, we’re going to keep trying new things.” While Vision 2022 might be a good starting point for De Kock as far as his Dubai drive is concerned, his string for this year’s carnival comprises a mere four to five names.

So far only Yurman, King Ragnar, Effectif and Majestic Mambo have seen action this season. Yurman and Effectif, 3yos by Asiatic Boy were unraced before coming to Dubai, while King Ragnar, a former Roger Varian trainee in Britain, won a handicap at Leicester in July. Majestic Mambo has been based in the UAE since 2019, but has been misfiring to put it mildly.

In fact, Effectif’s fifth in the Al Bastakiya Trial is the only prize money earned so far by the De Kock yard this term. De Kock said: “We haven’t really learned much from them because they were unraced coming here so no one really knew how good they were and they were untested, so we knew it was a gamble. “We knew they were running probably a month earlier than they should be, but it’s backs against the wall here so we used the race to improve their fitness.

I think they have maiden wins in them. Effectif looks like he can improve the most of the two. He probably has the most quality, but at this stage of the game they’re not Derby horses and they’ll certainly have to improve at all proportions to be.” Of King Ragnar, who followed up on his seventh in the Dubai Dash on 21 January by finishing down the field in the Dubai Sprint last Thursday, De Kock added: “He’s quite a nice horse and thankfully he was offered to us.

He looks the sort of sprinter, miler type. We used the races as an exercise gallop to try and bring him on. We don’t really have horses to gallop him with and work him with so we’re going to have to use the race for that, but I think at the end of the carnival when he achieves his peak, he will have the 7f Meydan Challenge at the end and I think he will be very competitive there.”

De Kock has achieved a vast amount of carnival success over the years and on Dubai World Cup night as well, with 2003 yielding a double in the form of the Group 2 UAE Derby and the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free which he won with Victory Moon and Ipi Tombe respectively.

He defended his Dubai Duty Free title the following year as the 2004 race ended in a dead-heat with Right Approach and Paoloni inseparable at the finish. He is a four time winner of Super Saturday’s Group 1 Jebel Hatta as well with Ipi Tombe (2003), Surveyor (2004), Master Of Hounds (2012) and lastly Vercingetorix winning the 2012 edition.

“We’ve won great races here and you could almost not write the script, but we’d really like to get back to those days and get those quality of animals back here because I’m still a really big believer in the Dubai Carnival and the whole Dubai dream itself so we’d like to get back to that,” De Kock said.