Champions 2007-08

Pocket Power clinches SA racing’s top award again

A long, bounding stride and lightning-fast finish are Pocket Power’s trademarks and this immensely talented son of boom sire Jet Master galloped into the history books by winning South Africa’s Horse of the Year title for the second year running.

When the curtain was drawn on the 2007-2008 racing season on 31 July, Cape-based Pocket Power had put all challengers in their places in the two majors he contested – the Group 1 J&B Met and the Group 1 Vodacom Durban July, in which he dead-heated with talented grey filly Dancer’s Daughter, who had substantially less weight on her back. In winning the Met, he became the first horse since Politician 29 years earlier to accomplish the fantastic feat of back-to-back wins in the race and his trainer Mike Bass summed it up: “He won like the true champ that he is!”

Earlier in the season Pocket Power had shown that same determination when storming home in both the Green Point Stakes, in which he powered through late after a slow start to win going away, and the Queen’s Plate, the country’s premier 1600m event, which he took for the second year running.

Pocket Power is still unbeaten over the Kenilworth 1600m, although he is better suited to the longer distances of the Met (2000m) and the July (2200m). His Queen’s Plate victories are a tribute to his class and courage.
Although chronically unsound in the 2006-07 racing season when he did not win during the KwaZulu-Natal Winter Season, his detractors were quick to label him a Kenilworth specialist because he had never won outside his home province. Bass dismissed that view as “hog-wash” and took his stable star back to Durban for the KwaZulu-Natal winter season in 2008.

After Pocket Power managed to finish only fourth in his first two races in Durban - the Drill Hall Stakes and the Gold Challenge – the theory that he was better at Kenilworth was gathering momentum, although Bass excused his charge’s Gold Challenge effort, saying: “He found himself out of his ground in a slow-run race and struggled to make up the deficit. He did, however, run a cracking race, finishing very strongly.”

Pocket Power then ran arguably the best race of his life in the July in which he fought out an epic battle to share the spoils, giving Bass and his team what they term their “proudest moment”.
He was valiant in defeat in his last run of the season, when powering home and failing narrowly to overhaul Buy And Sell in the Champion’s Cup. He conceded in weight the equivalent of 3.50 lengths to the winner and would have won in a couple more strides.

It’s been said that the best horse in South Africa is only just reaching the pinnacle of his potential. You have to wonder how good he will be when he’s at the top of his game!

Hard work and high targets pay off for Khan

Setting high targets and actively seeking winners has seen Mark Khan win the South African Jockeys’ Championship five times in the last eight years. His most recent premiership, he says, was one of his toughest because, although he is No 1 rider to three powerful yards – Geoff Woodruff and Gary Alexander on the Highveld and Gavin Smith in Port Elizabeth – and a couple of smaller ones, none of his stables was really firing.

His tally of 192 winners (56 more than closest pursuer Anton Marcus) was “disappointing” in terms of numbers and feature races in particular. “Don’t get me wrong because it was wonderful to win the championship again,” says the man who halfway through the season turned down a plum job as stable jockey to leading Australian trainer Lee Freedman. “I don’t want to sound arrogant or vain because 192 winners in a season is a total most jockeys can only dream of. But it was well below my personal target.”

The 40-year-old, who has also won jockey’s titles in Macau and Mauritius, is eyeing his sixth South African title because “you have to take your opportunities when they present themselves. It would be wrong of me not to go for it – I’m not always going to be at the top”.

And the hardest-working jockey in South Africa certainly puts in the effort. He not only has rides in virtually all the races at three race meetings a week, he also rides work at the three training centres on the Highveld “to keep my finger on the pulse”.

That’s part of his marketing strategy: “The trainers appreciate the effort I put in and when you’re at the top of your game, you have to work even harder if you want to stay there,” he says.
Outside of his rigorous and tiring routine in the sport he loves, most of Khan’s time is devoted to his wife Rhonda and their two children Sandra and Cameron.

Mike de Kock - a champion at home and abroad!

At a relatively young 44, trainer Mike de Kock is to South African horseracing what Ernie Els is to golf. He is the standard-bearer of South African racehorse trainers with nearly 1500 career winners and 62 prestigious Group 1 victories to his name.

Four-time champion trainer in South Africa, De Kock rose to fame as the handler of the legendary Horse Chestnut in the late 1990s. Rated by several pundits as the best horse bred in South Africa, Horse Chestnut won eight races including the Triple Crown in his home country. He went on to give De Kock a historic first winner in the USA before being injured in training and retired to stud in Kentucky.

That experience fuelled De Kock’s desire to compete overseas and in 2003 he took six horses to Dubai to compete in the Dubai International Racing Carnival that culminates in Dubai World Cup night, the richest race meeting on the planet with six races for thoroughbreds carrying total prize money of $21 million.

De Kock won two of the six races on the big night and has not looked back since, making himself and South African horseracing international brands in the process. He is the leading international trainer at the Dubai International Racing Carnival and has three times had two winners on Dubai World Cup night, most recently in March this year when his charge Honour Devil won the $2-million UAE Derby followed two hours later by stablemate Sun Classique’s success in the $5-million Dubai Sheema Classic.

From his satellite base in Dubai, De Kock has sent out an astounding 63 winners from only 288 runners over the last five years, capturing some of the world’s richest and most sought-after racing trophies.

He has trained two Durban July winners and a host of champions including Ipi Tombe, Victory Moon, Greys Inn, Asiatic Boy, Archipenko and Irridesence, with major-race victories in Dubai, Hong Kong and the UK. He is one of a select handful of trainers who can boast Group victories on four continents and is widely regarded as racing’s truly international trainer.

De Kock’s success abroad has established that South African horses can hold their at all levels globally, which has led to record thoroughbred sales figures in our country and increased exports of our top racehorses to overseas destinations, where many have performed with distinction.

De Kock, married to Diane with two children Matthew Kirsten, is one of South Africa’s greatest modern-day sporting ambassadors, but due to a dire lack of mainstream media support his achievements remain unheralded and to a large extent unknown to the South African public.