Mike de Kock, South Africa’s most celebrated racehorse trainer, says he is contemplating his future in the game after events of the past week.
Writing a blog on his website, mikedekockracing.com, the multiple former champion said members of his family, his staff and his horses had been threatened with death and harm during the three-day grooms’ strike at the Randjesfontein Training Centre near Midrand.
This had exacerbated his frustrations with the industry in general and he predicted a dramatic decline in the number of trainers and horses in training in the next two years.
Here’s an edited version of the blog:
My stable and my family have just experienced three potentially life-changing days. The grooms’ strike at Randjesfontein has left us contemplating the future.
I’d like to believe that we as a family and as a stable have been the most pro-active in the country at improving the lot of our grooms.
Over the last 15 years I have been sending grooms around the world, to the USA, the UK, Dubai, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong. Every year I employ a group of South African grooms in the UAE for four or five months. They live in the Sheraton Hotel with me and get paid a substantial wage as well as still getting their SA wages. They also receive massive bonuses of between R20,000 and R100,000.
I’ve seen these grooms improve their lifestyles, buy houses and cars, educate their children and uplift their families. Only a select few of my top grooms have travelled abroad, but many of the ones at home have earned good wages and have also benefited from the success in which they’ve played a part.
The key to this sort of remuneration is stakes. SA owners should be paying more but how does one justify that when stakes have stagnated like they have here?
My wife Diane’s AIDS programme has saved many lives. Some of our owners are among the most generous people I know … [contributing] added bonuses of their own.
To sit in a meeting with grooms while being called a racist who beats his grooms up left a bitter taste in my mouth and sent my blood pressure through the roof.
To have been confronted by 300 weapon-wielding, threatening grooms left a bitter taste in my mouth.
When members of my family, staff and horses are threatened with death and harm it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. From now on, we’ll be living in fear and uncertainty.
Recently I gave R5,000 to a groom who came to me when his child was kidnapped. I paid the ransom money and we never saw him for two months. The same groom sat on the groom’s committee/EFF and turned on me, threatening violence.
The experience … coupled with surprise, disappointment and disbelief, has brought me to a stage where I have to say that Mike de Kock Racing is seriously considering our position in South African racing.
I am thinking of the implications, which include unemployment of at least 100 people involved with my stable; the giving up of dozens of racehorses, stallion shares and broodmares; the international ramifications with our big overseas owners, the negative publicity and the investment lost to SA.
It’s enough having to deal with the Jockey Club and racing administrators who haven’t made life easy. The grooms issue has aggravated matters to a level where Team De Kock feels like turning things up. Do we really need this?
South African racing is in for a rude awakening. In the next two years the number of horses in training will be reduced by 10-20%. There will be fewer licensed trainers, 20% or more. Local and overseas owners do not want to be associated with violence and aggression.
I fully recognise the right to protest. I am fully aware that all is not right with our grooms. I am fully committed to correct that, but not under the threat of violence.
Personally, I will be reducing my string by 40%. The situation racing is in has left me wondering why I do it and questioning my own loyalty to SA racing.