Dean Kannemeyer comes from a dynasty of horsemen. His father, Peter, was one of the leading trainers in the Western Cape for many years, until Dean took over the stable in 1999.
Dean had some top horses who have performed with aplomb on racetracks all over South Africa. He has won almost every major race in country including three Vodacom Durban Julys – Dynasty in 2002, Eyeofthetiger in 2006 and Power King in 2015 – and numerous Classic.
But it is the Sun Met that is the showpiece of horseracing in the Western Cape and the race every trainer, owner and jockey yearns to win. Dean’s father won the race three times but for Dean, it is the one race that has eluded him.
“I am hungry to win the Met,” admitted 57-year-old Dean.
It’s not that he hasn’t had capable horses. Dynasty is one of the best horses this country has produced and is now the most valuable locally bred sires standing in the country.
But Dynasty never got to run in the Met. “He won the Cape Derby as a three-year-old and then I took him to Durban where won the Durban July. He came back to the Cape and easily won the Green Point Stakes and was due to run in the Queen’s Plate and then the Met before possibly going to race in Hong Kong.
“Unfortunately he went wrong in the Queen’s Plate and the connections felt he would be more valuable at stud,” explained Dean.
Free My Heart was a very good horse but after he won the Queen’s Plate Dean decided to miss the Met that year and take him to Joburg and Durban where he won The Horse Chestnut Stakes, the Gold Challenge and the Champion Stakes. In 2003, carrying top weight, Free My Heart finished second in the Met behind lightly weighted Angus.
Dean has had other top horses like Rabiya, Noordhoek Flyer and Capetown Noir who have not been able to win him a Met.
He also trained Past Master as a three-year-old, who was moved from him during its three-year-old career and then won the Met with another trainer.
Luck has not been on his side but Dean is hoping everything will change this year when he saddles Last Winter to win the R5-million race over 2000m at Kenilworth racecourse on Saturday 27 January.
This four-year-old son of Western Winter cost R3.7-million as a yearling, is owned by Lady Laidlaw’s Khaya Stables, and has only raced five times. He won his first four races and was beaten a short head in his last start.
“Last Winter has taken a very different programme to some of the top horses my father and I have trained. In Lady Laidlaw we have a very patient owner, thank God, because we had a setback with him as a three-year-old,” said Dean.
“When he won first time out he was very backward, very immature. If the owner had rushed me at that stage, he would never have trained on. He won as a two-year-old at Greyville in Durban but because of his immaturity I put him away.
“I then brought him back to Cape Town to run in the Guineas but he kicked the wall and had to stand in his box for 12 weeks in order to recover. He missed the entire Cape summer as a three-year-old.”
Dean took him back to Durban and brought him out at Scottsville as a late three-year old. He won well again at Scottsville but that was at the end of the KZN winter season so Dean put him away again.
“I brought him back to run again at Durbanville and he won very well. I’ve gone softly with him, never pushed him.”
Dean then decided to run Last Winter in the Grade 2 Premiers Trophy over 1800m. He was well supported to go off 12-10 favourite but the conditions were very tough and his inexperience told. There was a strong head wind and although he flew up late, Last Winter failed by a short head to catch front-running Milton. “He was very unlucky,” said Dean. “He really took off the last furlong, but at least it showed me he had no problem going 1800m.
“Again I went easy with him and decided to pull him out of the Queen’s Plate. I didn’t want him to have such a hard race against some tough rivals in that race.
“The Met will be his real test but it’s only now he’s starting to look like a man, rather than a baby. I just wish we had the old rules where he would have come into this race carrying 53kg. They’ve now turned the tables by making it a weight-for-age race which means he will be meeting most of his rivals at level weights.
“It’s not ideal but if you asked yourself which horse in the Sun Met has the most room for major improvement, it has to be Last Winter.”
Dean had a minor setback when regular jockey Anthony Delpech had to pull out because of commitments to his sponsors, Mauritzfontein and Wilgerbosdrift Stud. “Delpech was with him all the way but he is under contract to ride for Mary and Jessica Slack. But I was lucky to get hold of Piere Strydom and I feel very fortunate to find a top jockey. Piere’s been around a long time and has ridden more Group 1 winners than most.”
The draw will be decided on 18 January and that is another very important factor. “I hope the draw is kind to us because from a trainer’s point of view there’s a lot involved. As we go along and get closer to the race everybody starts to get excited.
“I’m the type of trainer who gets on with the job. The only time I do get tense is when the horses go down to the start. Mind you, I get tense with a horse running in a Maiden Plate. It’s because at that point I no longer have any control over what happens.
“Good jockeys are good sportsmen, they take it in their stride. Once you give a jockey the leg up in the parade ring he’s now the captain – he’s the man flying the plane.”
He also points out that training a horse for a race like the Sun Met is not about one man. “I have a whole team at the stables and they all have their jobs to do for us to be successful.
David Liley is my assistant trainer. People never see him but he plays a major role.
“No race is easy but hopefully when the big day comes, everybody will see how good Last Winter is.”
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