MDK STABLE TEAM
“You’re only as good as the team behind you.” – Mike de Kock.
Mike runs his operation in four centres simultaneously. His home base is Summerveld near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, where the training tracks are very good an the weather is good all year round. The Summerveld barn is managed by Nathan Kotzen and John Buckler. “Durban is South Africa’s best kept secret,” says Mike, who tries to spend as much time as possible at his house in Umhlanga.
The SA satellite base is at Randjesfontein, where Diane de Kock prepares young horses, bought at sales, pre-training them for the main yard and Mathew de Kock is now in charge of the main barn. Mike also has a new temporary barn at Milnerton in Cape Town, used in the Cape Summer Season.
Trevor Brown is the stable’s assistant at Blue Stables in Dubai, permantly based in the UAE. He keeps the international campaigners ticking over after the annual Dubai Racing Carnival and often travles with them to race in other centres. He is assisted, most of the time, by Steven Jell, the stable’s “roving banker”, who fulfills duties at he quarantine station in Cape Town or fills in for Brown on the international circuit.
In addition to this, horses travel to Dubai via the UK and Mary Slack’s Abington Place at Newmarket, UK, where they are kept on the mark during their travels.
Mike feeds his horses a special mix developed over several years of experimenting, and adapted for youmg horses, horses in the training process and horses ready to race. See De Kock Special Mix.
The stable makes extensive use treadmills and swimming pools as training aid, extremely valuable especially for injured or unsound horses.
Teams of experienced grooms in every centre give every horse the best care possible. Mike takes his best grooms/work riders to Dubai every year. In addition to their normal experience in a top stable, they are also graduates of veteran trainer and former champion jockey James Maree’s successful Academy for work riders.
At present, Mike uses Anthony Delpech, as retained rider to Mary Slack; also apprentice Callan Murray as stable jockeys. He also uses Gavin Lerena when available and a variety of others fill in, like Randall Simons and Muzi Yeni. In Dubai, Christophe Soumillon is the retained rider for Mike’s patron Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, while Jim Crowley is the new retained rider for Mike’s other owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Christophe Soumillon, retained in Dubai.
DR JOHN MCVEIGH an JEHAN MALHERBE
They call themselves the “Hands-On” Team and between Mike, Dr John McVeigh (left) and Form Bloodstock’s Jehan Malherbe countless champions have been selected and purchased. McVeigh is world-renowened for his success with injured and unsound horses; Malherbe has been such a shrewd selector of horses that he consults to Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalia Al Maktoum. A long line of successes for the Team include Rich Man’s Gold and Tiger Ridge (sires), Right Approach (Group 1 winner and sire), Eagle Mountain (Group 1 winner, sire), Archipenko (Group 1 winner, sire), Rat Burana, Ilha Da Vitoria, Escoleta Fitze and others.
DIANE DE KOCK
DIANE de Kock takes care of pre-training at Randjesfontein, and at any point in time has between 30 and 50 two-year-olds in her care. The young horses normally walk, trot and canter and when their development allows, they are transferred to Mike de Kock’s main yard for full training.
Diane hails from the famous Cawcutt family and was born in Cape Town. Her father, Johnny Cawcutt, was twice SA Champion Jockey and 16 times Cape Champion during a distinguished career. Her uncle, Lesley Cawcutt, was a trainer.
Diane moved to Johannesburg in the late 1980s and worked as an assistant trainer to James Goodman. A skilled rider, during this time she competed in several races for ladies and won two of them.
Diane met Mike while he was working as an assistant to trainer Robbie Sage, and the couple married in 1992. Mike regards Diane as a backbone of the stable with her love for horses, her good judgement and her knack of producing young horses in fine fettle for full training.
”’What I enjoy most is seeing how the young horses develop and later go on to win races,’’ says Diane. “We pre-trained 20 individual juvenile winners last season,“ Diane says. “Without my team of dedicated grooms this wouldn’t have been possible!”
Diane’s team at Randjes
Also read: Diane’s sterling work
John Buckler has a wealth of experience in horseracing, having spent 11 years as an assistant trainer to the prominent Ferraris family.
Like Mike himself, John started as a stable employee to Ormond Ferraris. He worked with the likes of Michael Clements (now a successful trainer in Singapore) and Weiho Mawing, and then became assistant trainer to David Ferraris, who won four National Trainers’titles and two July Handicaps during that period.
Mike de Kock describes Buckler as a having ”the eye of a hawk’’ and missing nothing in his yard. John is rock solid, reliable and committeda and a huge asset to the stable.
Nathan Kotzen is Mike’s long-time assistant trainer based at Summerveld. He is a talented horseman Mike has often described as “a top trainer in his own right”.
Nathan hails from the Kotzen racing family, steeped in the thoroughbred industry. He has fond memories of early childhood, when he rode work for his father, former trainer Natie Kotzen, in Zambia.
His brother, Glen, is a successful trainer in Cape Town and his other brother, Darren, is a farrier in the Western Cape, while his late brother Grant was one of the best jockeys of his era, based in KwaZulu-Natal. His cousin is Mitchell Wiese of Port Elizabeth, who trained Lizard’s Desire as a three-year-old.
Over the last 20 years Nathan has worked for some of the best trainers in the business, including Mike Azzie, Pat Shaw, Michael Roberts, Pat Lunn and David Payne.
”I have learnt a lot of good things from a lot of good horsemen, but you never stop learning in this game,’’ says Nathan, who has had remarkable and consistent off-season success with De Kock’s horses in KwaZulu-Natal.
FORMER jockey Trevor Brown is Mike’s full-time assistant in Dubai.
He joined the South African Jockey Academy in 1988 and rode mostly in Durban and Cape Town until he was forced to hang up his boots due to weight problems.
Trevor got a job as work rider to the Sateesh Seemar stable in Dubai, and during this time his friend Kevin Shea, the regular rider of Ipi Tombe, introduced him to the De Kock stable.
He has blossomed as an assistant trainer come work rider since, and has done duties for De Kock in KwaZulu-Natal, Dubai, Mauritius, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and the US. He says: ”It is just wonderful to be associated with such a powerful string of horses.’’
STEVEN JELL joined Mike de Kock as a travelling assistant trainer in 2004 and left for a short sabbatical in 2009, is back in the yard and as happy as he’s ever been. ”Not many people can say they can’t wait to get to their jobs every day,’’ he says. ”I simply love horses and I love traveling and seeing big races over the world.’’
One of the most experienced assistant trainers in the business, Jell has been around champions all of his career. He started with trainer Tony Millard in 1992, working with the likes of Empress Club, Dancing Duel, Surfing Home and Bella Bianca.
After this he spent a year at stud farms, first joining ”Lofty’’ Loftus at The Alchemy and then preparing yearlings for the Keeneland Sales in the US at Graham Beck’s Gainesway Stud.
On his return in 1999, Jell joined the championship stable of Geoff Woodruff, assisting with the preparation of stars such as Jet Master, El Picha, Badger’s Drift, Paraca and Yard-Arm, who he has been able to re-unite with in Dubai in 2004.
Steven has managed satellite yards for Woodruff in Dubai, Cape Town and Durban, and says he is particularly proud of preparing Paraca, Duchess Daba and Raining Roses, who finished 1-2-3 in the 2003 Majorca Stakes.
Since 2004 he has travelled worldwide on Mike’s behalf or as an assistant. His most rececnt highlight was saddling Lizard’s Desire in Mike’s absence when Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalfi Al Maktoum’s runner won the Singapore International Airlines Cup.
MATHEW DE KOCK
Mike’s son Mathew was a boy one day, a man the next. The modest 19-year-old is the latest addition to the team and has set his sights on following in his dad’s famous footsteps.
Mathew is a keen golfer, like Mike, and even before he finished school at the end of 2009 he was enrolled to take up a golf scholarship at a US University from January 2010. En route to his new home he stopped over in Dubai to say hello and goodbye, but never boarded his flight to the States!
Mathew spent the duration of the 2010 Dubai Carnival working as a stable employee at Grandstand stables and enjoyed it so much he changed his entire game plan, quietly delighting Diane, who had cried long tears over her son’s leaving home to live in America.
Mike tells: “Mathew is a natural, he took to working with horses like a duck to water. He’d always shown a keen interest growing up and his love for racing outweighed his passion for golf when it came to the crunch. He’s had to start from scratch, working as a groom in the engine room to learn the basics, but I’m showing him the shortcuts as we go along amd he’s lucky, I’ll be saving him at least a decade in learning the ropes the hard way.
”I am proud of Mathew. He listens and he soaks everything up. He is mature beyond his years and he spots the important little things in the stable I wouldn’t have expected him to pick up so soon.”
Mathew has fitted in perfectly with the seasoned senior members of Mike’s team and he’s remained humble despite his priceless headstart with the master trainer. Mike’s already thrown him at the media wolves, but he’s handled his first few press interviews with the same professional ease his father is known for.
Dean Durandt (Summerveld) is the stable’s full-time farrier. Farriers are seldom in racing’s limelight, but they perform vital duties behind the scenes.
In racing farriery is not just about nailing shoes to a horse’s feet, it has indeed become become a highly sought-after skill. Top farriers often work in consultation with veterinarians to rectify hoof problems with corrective shoeing. Niggling hoof problems have kept many good horses off the track for ages, but with a good farrier in the yard these problems are in most cases alleviated.
Training tracks (Summerveld)
Horse Scale (Dubai)