Mathew Moon. Picture: Michel Bega
Saddling up a fighting-fit, highly prepped racehorse is not for the faint-hearted. So, how do you deal with five of the beasts in a few minutes before a big race? That’s the job facing the De Kock stable on Saturday at Turffontein as it sends out a quarter of the 20-strong field in the Gauteng Chris Gerber Summer Cup.
Mike de Kock’s solution is to call on the family to help out – or, more correctly, his son Mathew who, in just a few years, has become the stable’s lynchpin and a highly respected horseman in his own right.
“I’ll probably saddle three and my dad might do two,” explains Mathew, 28, adding that his job as assistant trainer to his father means he does the hard yards in a complex operation.
Apart from saddling up, Mathew is also responsible for the myriad small details of race preparation – that the horses are in good nick, all tack and equipment is in order and jockeys know what they’re expected to do.
None of this is a burden for a young man who admits: “Racing is my life.”
This wasn’t always the case, though. During his school years – at Dainfern College in northern Joburg – Mathew spent more time on a golf course than a racecourse.
“I was awarded a golfing scholarship at a college in the US and was all set to go there after matric,” he reveals. “But I had nine months to wait before the start of the academic year in America. So, I went to work in my dad’s yard, to kill time and earn some extra money.
“And that’s when the bug bit!”
Racing fans watching Mathew talking about horses on television over the past 10 years since he threw himself into the job have seen him grow in confidence and assuredness. No-one doubts he is destined for the very top in the world of racing.
“Obviously, my ambition is to take over from my dad one day; to become my own trainer,” he says. And, like his trail-blazing father, he has his eye on the international stage.
“I’ve had a small taste of international racing and it’s very exciting.”
The De Kock stable has announced plans to set up a training base in Australia, with Mathew pencilled in to run it. “But that’s still very much in the concept stage,” he says, preferring to talk about the here and now.
Front of mind is Saturday’s big race meeting at Turffontein. Four of the five De Kock runners top the betting boards, with the fifth not far below.
Some might feel a pressure of expectation in such a situation, but Mathew shrugs it off: “We’re not influenced by betting markets. I want to have the top four finishers, not favourites before a race!”
He sees being an overwhelming favourite to dominate the race as “a comfortable situation to be in” and “an achievement”.
Brilliant four-year-old colts Soqrat and Barahin are at 3-1 and 4-1 in the betting and are rated so far ahead of the opposition that it will be a surprise to most if anything beats them.
So, which of the other three De Kock candidates might spring that surprise?
“It would be no a surprise to me if any one of ours won. They’re all quality and all their preps have gone very well.”
He concedes that Atyaab – “outsider” of the quintet – might prefer more ground than this Grade 1’s 2000m, but insists the Australian import is a serious contender if things go in his favour on the day.
As are the two females – handily weighted Cascapedia and Queen Supreme – who he describes as “spot on”.
So, what is the De Kock “secret of success”?
Mathew answers that question with certainty.
“My dad is a very good horseman, but he’s as good a businessman. It’s so important to handle the business side of things well; to know what to prioritise.
“He has surrounded himself with very professional people, knowledgable people with lots of experience who provide input in areas where he might not know everything.
“That’s the most important thing I have picked up on: my dad’s willingness to learn from the team.”
He might not admit it, but the racing world can plainly see that one of the most important members of that brilliant De Kock team is the youngest.
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