Close to calling it a day

My stable and my family have just experienced three potentially life-changing days. The grooms’ strike at Randjesfontein has left us contemplating the future, writes Mike de Kock in his blog.

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 places like the US, 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 depending on how on how good the season’s been.

I’ve seen these grooms improve their lifestyles, buy houses and cars, educate their children and uplift their families.

Admittedly 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. Dubai stakes speak for themselves. One can charge a proper fee and race for proper stakes. Take out are as follows: Trainer 10%; Jockey 10% and most notably the stable (grooms and all stable staff) share 5%. The key to a strong racing industry is stakes! 

Apart from Dubai look at all of Australia, Hong Kong Singapore and the USA. In the UK, day to day stakes are not great but big races are very good and the value of horses is off the charts. SA owners should be paying more but how does one justify that when stakes have stagnated like they have here?

We’ve done many more things to better the plight of our grooms.

My wife Diane’s AIDS programme has saved many lives.

We treat our grooms with respect, they receive perks and bonuses.

Some of our owners are amongst the most generous people I know, they have contributed with added bonuses of their own.

To sit in a meeting with grooms whilst 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 every day.

To read in a national newspaper that horses hadn’t been fed and watered for three days was shocking, a report unbecoming The Citizen because it was wholly untrue. I saw some trainers feed and water up to 100/150 horses with little or no help. All of these guys are in the training profession because they love horses, to start. Another bitter taste left in the aftermath.

I am more sympathetic than most when it comes to grooms’ affairs, I’ve seen them uplift themselves and I’ve taken pride from it.

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. Again, this left a bitter taste in my mouth.

My stable employs 80 grooms, and I am personally one of the biggest racehorse owners in South Africa. I have made a long and positive contribution to South African racing and the lives of many grooms.

The experience of the last few days and the affects it had on my own and my family’s lives, coupled with surprise, disappointment and disbelief, has brought me to a stage where I have to say that Mike de Kock racing is now 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 number of big overseas owners and the negative publicity it will create and the investment lost to SA. The recently successful TBA sales was mostly propped up by foreign money. Do these international, racing loving owners need this kind of aggravation?

I am not sure if these factors even matter anymore. 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. I am asking myself, do we really need this?

South African racing is in for a rude awakening.

I predict that 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.

Overseas investments will decrease, local and overseas owners do not want to be associated with violence and aggression.

Racing is a hobby and a sport for many, when it becomes unpleasant people will simply turn elsewhere.

Reduced figures all round means that hundreds of grooms are on the verge of losing their jobs. 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%.  At this stage of my life I’ve been wanting to train the most beautiful animals and really enjoy it along with my son, but the situation racing is in has left me wondering why I do it and questioning my own loyalty to SA racing.

Where we go from here remains to be seen.

PS: A very big thank you to all those who sent messages and well wishes over the last few days . I didn’t realise I had that many friends and am touched by the thoughtful messages sent to show that so many care.

Photo credit: Racing Post.



  1. Sad state of affairs and Phumelela will just sit back and wait and do nothing till the industry is totally destroyed.

  2. Robert Maungedzo says:

    It would be sad to lose someone of your stature. Through the horses that you train, l have managed to win a number of exotic bets. Your contribution to the South African economy is immense. Please, don’t leave our country, your country because of few politically anaesthetised hooligans.

  3. Kamal Ganesh says:

    Dear Mike and family.

    You and your family do not deserve this thoughtless and mindless action.Sadly this is the state of our country. Things are done without consideration of the after affects. A typical case of biting the hand that feeds you. You have truly done so much for SA racing and especially your staff.
    This rubbish will leave a bitter taste for anyone in your position.
    I hope that no harm ever comes to any of you.
    Personally if I were in your position I would seriously consider a full time overseas setup.

  4. Moahloli Maphea says:

    Why do President Ramaphosa and his government and the ANC allow this Malema to destroy Horse Racing in South Africa? Wishing you well Mike and your family

  5. Simply heart-breaking.

  6. Gerry Carty says:

    Your family and your safety come first, I know it would be difficult to relocate but I am sure the racing fraternity throughout the world will assist you if you ever need to consider this option

    Gerry Carty

  7. Gerry Carty says:

    Your family and your safety come first, I know it would be difficult to relocate but I am sure the racing fraternity throughout the world will assist you if you ever need to consider this option

  8. Charl Strydom says:

    Hi Mike
    In life one face a lot of giants. David also had such a huge giant to face…
    Goliath…so big that no one in isreals army wanted to fight him.
    Don’t let just another giant get you down.
    I believe the trainers are with you all the way.

    From a SA Horse lover

  9. Patrick Marrotta says:

    This is a trainer of forty years in the jersey Florida area I am knowing where you come from the grins and the propel that run the industry are making having horses to train a very hard business two stay in my name is Patrick Marrotta I live in south Carilina now if you want two talk mike just call me ***** I would love two go to work and just rub for you that more money then I made training here in the states
    Call me



  11. Mike, i’m in the Uk and i know how much you contribute to uk and racing in general worldwide, you have been treated abisimally by people who rely upon you for income, they will get all they deserve absolutely nothing if you decide to pack up, you will move on and surviv they wont, good luck, bring you operation to the UK or UAE where you are appreciated, best regards to you and your family. nick

  12. Met one of your grooms about 2 yrs ago & they had nothing but good things to say about you and your family. Decisions best made when dust has settled. Hang in there, you have a lot of support in this side of the world.

  13. J roberts says:

    I can say that a grooms view on life is largely down to their own life choices and they look for outside sources to blame having personally working in racing for most of my life I can honestly say with every you individually have done for racing and your continued support and your prioritising of groom well being is outstanding and I think I would be a huge loss to this industry globally if you chose to relinquish your license from one who has followed your forays into European racing with interest I would implore you to maintain your position and your establishment I no myself and others view your racing stable with a certain prestige and are impressed with the performance of your raceshorses when you chose to make the trip to Europe.
    Kind Regards
    J Roberts

  14. I read your article understanding and feeling every word of frustration, disbelief, and utter
    incredulity at how people can turn against one and give false evidence. This is Africa and there is an entrenched culture of entitlement, fostered largely by foreigners with misguided agendas. Some years ago, we suffered a period of terrible tragedy in our family and I must tell you that following and respecting the
    journey of Mike de Kock Racing locally and especially in Dubai, kept me sane and able to continue.
    Igugu, Soft Falling Rain, Vercingetorix, how we thrilled and were so proud and taken out of ourselves. No one can take this away …… the records are there and known worldlwide. It is an easy thing to say ‘ and this too shall pass away’ but it will ……. and there will be a better time again. Strength and Blessings to you and your family and Mike de Kock Racing as a whole.

  15. Mishaan dookran says:

    To team team de kock I know the feeling guys as a business man it’s happening throughout the country no matter what business we do we face the same issues it’s absolutely sad to see where the country is going its happened to me as well although I’m in a different sector to you guys , your stable is a champion stable you Mike are a professional and I hope the employees learn to respect you and your family and realise where this is heading to stay strong team I hope you guys take this a step at a time as a big punter hope the day comes soon that I will consider having a race horse and have your team train for me , wish you make the correct choice but please consider staying in the game we cannot afford to lose you

  16. Richard Hyland says:

    Dear Mike
    My name isRichard Hyland, I’m Irish , I’m 25 years old and working in Sydney at Royal Randwick as a track rider. Sorry for what’s happening over the last few days Mr De Kock, why not come to Australia to train? Better stakes wages and some very good horse men, the trainers in my eyes are not as good, a trainer of your stature would thrive in Sydney, Some if your biggest owners have plenty of Horses here. I want to train some day and I would love it to be out here, I would love to learn from you. I remember every Thursday after school watching your Horses win at Nad Al Sheba and Meydan. Your a world class trainer and I would love to hear from you .
    Thanks again

    • Peter wright says:

      Many good trainers in Australia Richard…

      • Slim jim says:

        True words there .. Australia ..we certainly wouldn’t put up with that it simply doesn’t happen this civilized society.

  17. Dylan Cunha says:

    Sad that you and the team have to go through things like this. I’d personally love to see MDK training a boutique string of 50 classy horses from a base where they can strike world wide and focus on the top races only. I remember the awesome days or Arlington USA, Hong Kong, AUS, Dubai from team MDK…its much more exciting and the team have achieved all it can achieve in SA! Leave it behind and strike where it matters, internationally… I have all the faith and wish you all the best. SA sadly, will never recover from where it is, we are only just beginning to feel and see what the rest of Africa is like!!!!

  18. Helen Galloway says:

    What an awful situation. I think it highlights a situation of bitterNess which has been brewing under the surface. I’m not sure that the kindness u have given is enough now they want more and more. What I do know is if people like yourself leave or give up . Where will these people be?. I wonder… could they build up the same as you?. Bitterness and hate does noone any good. Good luck to you if u are honest and decent I am sure that this is always rewarded.

  19. John Biral says:

    Dear Mike,

    I owned a number of horses in South Africa about 35 years ago, before moving to Italy. They were trained by David Payne, H Brown (snr) and Chris Snaith. I also owned the dam (Endangered Species) of your Gold Cup winner Wild One, which I gave to Robin Scott when I left SA. Recent events as stated by you have really shocked and saddened me. My suggestion is that you look at the cold hard facts of the situation, which in my opinion is as follows:
    1. Policiticians (Zuma etc) have ruined everything in South Africa, except the weather which they cannot manipulate,
    2. SA racing depends on the economy which is going backwards,
    3. Latest events are definitely not encouraging and there appears no improvement on the horizon,
    4. SA does not recognise your fantastic efforts in putting SA racing on the map.

    You have a great name as a professional trainer both in SA and overseas, the results speak for themselves.

    For your family’s sake and you son’s training future move to the UK and from there you can successfully raid Dubai, if the horses aren’t good enough for the British group races.

    All the best for your future and an immense thank you for what you have done for SA racing.


    John Biral

  20. We had a strike by the grooms in HK back in the 70’s. HKJC didn’t back down. Instead they requested the government to send in Gurkas to help take care of the horses. Racing in HK makes too much money. Can’t afford to have it interrupted.

  21. wishing you well. I know you will make the right decision(s)

  22. Family first Mike. Although your heart is in SA your peace of mind and general wellbeing and safety of yourself, family and the horses are paramount. Dubai, Uk,Ireland, France or the USA will all welcome you. Dont give up what you love for the sake of this totally out of control situation. You are a world class trainer and the grass is greener on the otherside of the fence. If i can be of any assistance when you make your decision please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  23. Viv owen says:

    Having read your post Mike , no words enough to express my heartbreak for you and your family .

    Disappointment n disbelief in people whom you have spent years uplifting , assisting , trusting and enjoying is incredibly destructive to your whole being soul n mind

    Sad n broken for you. Can only wish you luck , the upheaval emotionally n physically will be a tough call

    Sending love n as much light as I can regards Viv

  24. Peter wright says:

    Pack up and come straight to Australia, bring the family and leave behind the trouble, you will never look back when here,, David Payne is on a beautiful holiday everyday he wakes up out at Rosehill Sydney..

  25. A PREDDY says:

    Hey Mike,
    Never had a horse with you was in the game when Ricky Howard Ginsberg died – but there is one thing that connects us, ‘the love of the game’
    How the hell can the” 6 percenters” be allowed to hijack a business that is a top TAX PAYER in RSA WITHOUT any utterances from the govt. or PHUMELELA??????
    your ”STAFF” have been captured by a bunch of renegades; such will only come to an end when the powers that be react with impunity, once there is ACCOUNTABILITY in this beautiful country of ours, such will carry on until doomsday.
    I bought my 1st horse in 1983 out of funds that I worked for, (never stole) and am still around as a small owner; have a couple of horses, due to my ”love of the game”!!
    Hang in there, brother

  26. So sad and unjust to you and your family. You know in your heart that you gave your grooms the best and then they (some) have back stabbed you. Don’t know if all the grooms collectively went on strike. Here in the USA a groom would be delighted to work for a generous trainer like you. And having to leave your country, your home! to prosper in racing is a downright sin. Best wishes for a solution and peace for you and yours. Prayers for you and all the racing community in SA.

  27. Phillipa Gerson says:

    Unfortunately there is a really bad minority’s working on these employees to create havoc on the country!

    There is no understanding of what their lives will be like without you there! The bad guys don’t care!!!

  28. Neale van Streepen says:


    Things certainly seem to be changing very quickly in SA and in the racing industry it seems. We wish you best of luck in whichever direction you wish to go. My dad invested a lot of time, effort, frustration and money to his favorite passions, analysis, breeding and racing and it is a shame to see this happen to the industry.

    Stay Well

    Neale van Streepen

  29. Wniston Coetzer says:

    Hi Mike,
    With the advent of Casinos and many other forms of gambling the future of horse racing has had a Tough time .for the the past 20 years..The Grooms, the government and political parties should reallise this ..
    You have done the industry a great service internationally especially the farmer/breeders.who employ vast numbers of people..The presence of international buyers at our horse sales auctions has helped in a big way to maintaining the industry..
    Do hope that you and family will find a way to continue your contribution to the” Mutch Loved” game..!! .
    Winston Coetzer

  30. to mike and all his team

    I have been a punter for years and have followed horse racing from my teens, you have done so much for horse racing in this country and overseas .We cant afford to loose a trainer/owner of your status in this country you have contributed so much. horse racing wont be the same without you

    There is too much red tape and politics (unions etc) involved with horse racing and other sports in this country and things need to change! too much involvement from the administrative bodies as well.

    all the best for the future.

    regular punter