FORMER trainer Michael Airey has died after a long illness, suffering from cancer.
Airey, who handed in his trainers’ licence in 2006, bought a fuel service station in Ballito on Durban’s North Coast, where over the last several years many of his former colleagues in racing popped in for a chat and a cup of coffee.
Mike de Kock paid tribute to Airey yesterday, saying: “Mike and I became good friends when I moved to Summerveld and his horses were stabled next to my string. We played plenty of golf too. He will be sorely missed. He was a good horseman in his day and a good human being. Our condolences go to his family and friends.”
Michael Airey trained hundreds of winners during his career, including 1980 Dingaans and Gr 1 Champion Stakes winner, Swan Prince, and 2005 KZN Oaks winner, Studio Fifty Four.
DAVID THISELTON reports on goldcircle.co.za:
Airey’s best moment as a trainer came in January 1985, when his charge Charles Fortune, ridden by the late Grant Kotzen, won the J&B Met.
Charles Fortune was the result of a chance home breeding when an unraced thoroughbred, who had been used during her active years as a riding pony, was sent to the sire Commentary.
In winning the Met he beat top horses like Spanish Pool, Bodrum, subsequent July winner Gondolier, the good filly Novenna as well as previous J&B Met winner Arctic Cove and subsequent Administrators (Summer Cup) winner The Rutland Arms.
The last big win of Airey’s career was with Studio Fifty Four, a Badger Land filly who won the Grade 2 Gold Circle Oaks in 2004.
Airey handed in his trainers’ licence in 2006 and bought a fuel service station in Ballito on Durban’s North Coast, where many of his former racing colleagues have popped in for a chat and a cup of coffee over the last few years.
Airey started out in racing with a stint in the UK, where he worked for the likes of one-time English Champion trainer Paul Cole.
He worked as an assistant to Summerveld trainer Alistair Gordon after returning to South Africa in the late 1970’s.
A few years later he took out his own license and was helped a lot during this time by Fred Rickaby, a top trainer who had just retired.
Gordon paid tribute to Airey, “He was a very good trainer, who was patient with his horses and always turned them out immaculately. He was a real professional, who knew the game, and was a very nice person. He had a great sense of humour and was very popular.”
Jack Ramsay, a doyen of racing journalism of yesteryear, also spoke kindly of Airey, “He was a very pleasant, easy going person. He was always willing to talk openly about his runners.”
Airey’s love of racing was apparent when appearing on the Tellytrack show Winning Ways sometime after his retirement.
He will be sorely missed by the racing fraternity.