Mike de Kock has sights set on Summer No 10 | The Citizen

Mike de Kock, racehorse trainer supreme, isn’t at all fazed by having to saddle four runners for Saturday’s Betway Summer Cup at Turffontein.

He’s faced the challenge of preparing multiple candidates for major races “on a number of occasions” in his 40-odd years in the racing game. And how did those occasions pan out? “Won some, lost many!” is his laconic reply.

De Kock sends out Sparkling Water, Safe Passage, Aragosta and MK’s Pride in his bid to land a remarkable tenth victory in Joburg’s biggest race – a storied Grade 1 contest over 2,000m and worth R2.5-million in prize money this time around.

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The first three horses mentioned top the bookmakers’ boards at 22-10, 33-10 and 7-1 respectively, while the latter is a 33-1 long shot.

So, punters reckon De Kock is a good thing to ring up that magic number 10, but what does the man himself think of his charges’ chances?

‘Sparkling Water in good space’

“Sparkling Water is in a very good space and has done very well with her freshen up,” he says of his 2022 Hollywoodbets Durban July champion.

Sparkling Water ridden by S’manga Khumalo wins the Durban July. Picture: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images

“Safe Passage is never easy to assess but is doing well and is very honest.”

The winner of last season’s Dingaans, Gauteng Guineas and Daily News 2000 finished a creditable third behind his stablemate in the July, before being given a short rest and returning to action with an encouraging third in the recent Charity Mile at Turffontein.

Aragosta finished ninth in the July before disappointing at shortish odds in the Gold Cup – both race being run at Greyville in Durban. His comeback run on the Highveld after a break was also a no-show, but his trainer has this to say: “He is better than his prep run and has a reasonable swing at the weights with a few of his rivals. The draw [of 15 out of 19] is not a concern.”

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Then there’s mercurial MK’s Pride: “He ran in the Merchants [over the sprint distance of 1,160m] at this meeting last year. He is stretched over 2,000m at Turffontein but has great form over less.”

What about the opposition?

“Puerto Manzano, Red Saxon and Nebraas look like they have prepped well,” observes De Kock.

Incidentally, Puerto Manzano is one of four runners from the stable of Johan Janse van Vuuren, while Nebraas is one of five for Sean Tarry. That means, between them, three trainers saddle 13 of the 19 hopefuls.

De Kock’s name is already immortalised in South African horse racing, with multiple champion trainer titles and, most significantly, a distinguished international record.

He was born in Alberton in 1964, the eldest of six children, and was captivated by thoroughbreds from early on, watching them through the fence at the old Newmarket racecourse in his hometown.

3,400 winners

After school and national service in the equestrian unit, he had only one career in mind. Spells as an assistant trainer with leading conditioners Ormond Ferraris and Ricky Howard-Ginsberg gave him a superb grounding and he got his full licence when the latter mentor died suddenly in 1987.

More than 3,400 winners later, with 133 Grade 1 successes in the bag, De Kock can look back on a career with no equal on the South African turf. There’ve been five Durban Julys and three Cape Mets among those Grade 1s – not to mention two QEII Cups in Hong Kong, a Singapore Cup, a clutch of Dubai Carnival garlands and success in the UK and the US.

Great horses he has handled include Horse Chestnut, Ipi Tombe, Irridescence, Victory Moon, Ilha Da Vittoria, Igugu, Mother Russia, Vercingetorix and Hawaam.

Mike de Kock Igugu
Igugu with Anthony Delpeche in the saddle wins the 2012 J&B Met in January 2012. Picture: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images

It’s interesting how many of those superstars are female, so it’s unsurprising that De Kock singles out Ilha Da Vittoria, owner Mark Slack’s impossibly glamorous grey, as his most memorable Summer Cup winner.

Asked where he rates Sparkling Water among the glittering array he has trained, he is characteristically cautious: “I’m not sure yet as I believe her best is yet to come.”

One imagines Sparkling Water will be in the De Kock raiding party to Cape Town in the coming months. But the stable is not rushing into the future. The first thing is to negotiate Summer Cup day.

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“Saturday’s results will dictate most of our plans so I’m not going to get ahead of myself with what races we target in the Cape. A small, select string targeting the majors is the intention right now, with possibly a few maidens and juveniles too,” he says.

Asked about his plans for 2023 – the Dubai Carnival and a mooted venture into Australia with his son Mathew, now domiciled Down Under – De Kock gives a firm “no comment”.

A tenth glorious Summer is all he’s contemplating right now.

Mike de Kock’s Summer Cup wins:

(the race was known as the Champion Stakes for a few years)

1997 Record Edge

1998 Golden Hoard

1999 Fort Defiance

2000 Delta Form

2001 Ingleside

2003 Wolf Whistle

2005 Ilha Da Vittoria

2008 Rudra

2010 Flirtation

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