MIKE de Kock is wary discussing his 2019 Dubai Carnival prospects, but the names that jump off the page of his latest string are Vodacom Durban July fourth Majestic Mambo, Yulong Prince (formerly Surcharge, runner-up in all three legs of the Triple Crown), Sun Met runner-up Last Winter and Equus Champion Stayer Hermoso Mundo.
He spoke to Bonginkosi Patrick Nkosi of TAB News:
“I’m not making any predictions this year. I’m tired of being wrong!” said De Kock last week as he discussed the 21 thoroughbreds he will take charge of in Dubai.
A lot of the stable’s exports from South Africa will only arrive at Meydan racecourse in mid-January after a lengthy quarantine journey via Mauritius and the UK and De Kock faces a race against time to get them ready to compete at the Carnival, which runs over three months, January through March.
“You can’t get used to the pressure,” he stated. “When Ipi Tombi won the Dubai Duty Free it was unbelievable. I didn’t realise how much people actually cared until I got back home. The reception was unreal. But the expectations have since become a bit unrealistic.
“The burden of being expected to win every single year adds pressure for sure. It’s tougher now because the big stakes entice the best horses the world has to offer.”
The 15th Dubai Carnival kicks off on 3 January and two questions are circulating in the South Africa horseracing community: Which horses are in De Kock’s string and does he think any of them are good enough to win the World Cup?
I sat down with the eight-time South African champion trainer to discuss the Carnival and realised 30 March 2019 will mark exactly 16 years since he saddled his first winners on Dubai World Cup Night – Ipi Tombi and Victory Moon, back in 2003.
De Kock is arguably the greatest SA trainer of all time, having saddled more than 3,000 winners. And he has a fabulous record at the Carnival with five Group 2 UAE Derby trophies, six Group 2 Al Fahdi Forts, four Group 1 Jebel Hattas, two Group 1 Dubai Duty Free/Turfs and two Al Quoz Sprints.
That’s why the country expects him to win every year and he feels a spot of pressure.
This time he is pulling onto the world stage more fellow South African trainers and owners than ever before – and the possibility of providing them with victories excites him.
“I’m very happy we have the Peter boys on board,” he says. “Mary (Slack) has obviously bought shares in Majestic Mambo,” he said. “He has been gelded and has potential. The thing is, we’re looking way beyond Dubai with this horse. I think he is classy enough to win in Hong Kong and England.”
The trainer believes both Majestic Mambo and Yulong Prince (Surcharge) come from a very strong crop and could be the cream of it.
“I’m very excited with the Hermoso Mundo partnership too,” he said when discussing the stayer’s chances. “These older horses tend to do very well in Dubai. He is at the right age. He’ll only make it to Dubai in mid-January, so will be behind in fitness. A lot needs to go right but he is doing well in Mauritius and I think he’s up for it.
“I’m hoping he wins something so the world gets to witness (part-owner) Sean Singleton’s war cry – that would be fun,” he laughed.
Dean Kannemeyer-trained Last Winter is another good example of De Kock collaborating with other South African trainers.
“I’m looking after Last Winter for Dean. He has had minor injury setbacks but is a horse that has great potential. We’re trying to get him ready for World Cup Night. I think he may even do well in Hong Kong – we’ll see.”
There’s been plenty of talk about Fire Away, bought as a stallion from the USA, and De Kock is hoping he can get the six-year-old to fire on the track before he heads to stud.
“He’s performed very well. I like his form a lot. He is an interesting prospect because he has raced on both turf and dirt.”
Marinaresco is another runner that could be well suited to racing conditions at Meydan. If he can reproduce a performance like his breathtaking 2017 Vodacom Durban July victory, De Kock reckons he’ll do very well.
“Marinaresco needs no introduction. He was rock hard when winning the July. The plan, as of now, is to run him in two races in the Carnival and then see where to next.”
De Kock pointed out that not many South Africans know that Light The Lights won a big race in Abu Dhabi not long ago: “He will win his share of races. In fact, I have a few hard-knocking handicappers like Mujaafi and Alfolk who I believe will do well considering they have little mileage.
“They are rated so they can win, but whether or not they’ll win in the Carnival is yet to be seen.”
Janoobi flew the South African flag high when winning a Grade 2 and running up close to world-class runners like Benbatl last season. “I’m expecting him to do a whole lot better. He’s more than capable,” said De Kock.
When asked whether he had a possible Dubai World Cup contender, he quickly responded: “Not that I’m aware of. We’ll only race on the grass on World Cup Night. No dirt, to be honest.”