Jack Milner
5 minute read
30 Apr 2016
11:00 am

Computer geek hits it big

Jack Milner

Horseracing not a profitable business but it’s a business with heart.

CONFIDENT. Rika and Adriaan van Vuuren pose with Abashiri at the Northrand Training Centre in Midrand, ahead of Champions Day at Turffontein Racecourse today. Abashiri is looking to win the third leg of the Triple Crown after winning the first two. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Be prepared – the orange and black invasion is coming to town. When top three-year-old Abashiri arrives at Turffontein for today’s R2 million SA Derby, the final leg of the SA Triple Crown, he will be accompanied by an army of supporters.

“We will all arrive in numbers,” says owner Adriaan van Vuuren. “For the Derby we have organised buses for about 200 of our staff and even people from other businesses will be coming to support Abashiri.

“We will supply them with food packets, shirts, flags and hats. They will all stand at the rail from the 200m mark to hopefully cheer him home. “If the weather plays its part, I think we will create a day that has not been seen at Turffontein for years.”

It is hard to believe Van Vuuren and his wife, Rika, have only been involved in horseracing since 2012. They have made such an impact in only four years that it feels as if they have been around much longer.

While Adriaan and Rika knew little about racing, they had been involved with horses all their lives. One reason they moved out to Mooikloof Equestrian Estate in Pretoria was for them and their children to be close to horses.

They also own Misty Meadows in Cullinan, which has hosted numerous equestrian championships for youngsters. Their only connection to horseracing was the Vodacom Durban July, an event the pair attended annually, even in the days before they accumulated any wealth.

“We had barely enough money to buy food at Greyville and didn’t bet, except on that day of the year.” That passion for the Durban July goes back to his days as a child when the family would put together a few rands to bet on a horse in the race. “You remember those days; they are part of your history.

“That is why it has been my dream to win the July. Every horse you buy you think will win you the Durban July, but then you realise it’s not so easy. You soon understand there are so many factors beyond your control. Even a man like Markus Jooste, who has been in the game for many years and is a prolific owner, has yet to lead in a Durban July winner.

“But occasionally you stumble on a horse such as Abashiri and then your hopes rise.” The decision to buy a racehorse arose during a motivational speech the 42-year-old gave. He used the Durban July as part of his talk and was then asked if he was going to buy a racehorse.

After a discussion with Rika they decided to venture into the world of horseracing and in November 2012, Adriaan arrived at the TBA complex in Germiston for the Ready To Run sale.

“I’m more of a computer geek. I come from the world of figures and computers and I had no idea about how to buy a horse. We lived in Flaming Rock Street so we wanted to buy something that was related to him.

“I walked into the complex and saw all these people with books. I knew nothing about how to buy a horse, but I went to the office to get a buying card and they asked me how much I wanted to spend.”

He told them about R100 000 and when a grey filly, Dover Beach, caught his eye Adriaan bought her for R80 000. But as he started to understand more and perused the catalogue, he found what he was looking for.

“I saw lot 48 was the only horse related to Flaming Rock so I started to bid for him.” The horse was named Mystical Star. “I saw this other guy bidding but I didn’t know who he was. I was later told he was Mike de Kock.”

Eventually Lot 48 was knocked down to Adriaan for R1.5 million, the top price at the sale. The only problem was everybody was mystified by this unknown bidder. As he did not have a credit facility for that amount, Adriaan was called to the boardroom and asked how he was going to pay for the horse.

“I told them it was no problem and if they brought me a computer I would do the transfer immediately, which I did. “Then this guy asked me which trainer I would be using. I told him I was going to take the horses to the farm and would train them there.” He was told that was not an option and he needed to find a trainer.

“I wanted somebody who would really care for the horses and this guy told me he had an ideal trainer and introduced me to Mike Azzie. “The whole experience was quite a rude awakening. But from there the interest grew and the horses grew in numbers.”

The relationship with Azzie has grown and Van Vuuren is delighted with his choice. “People ask why I only have one trainer and my response is ‘why am I only married to one wife’. “Michael understands the game and loves his horses.

When Abashiri was hurt before the Classic he slept with the horse. We flew in vets and farriers, we did not even tell the jockey. But it was the right move. “I let him make all the calls. You need to have a doctor to do the operation.

You don’t interfere and you measure the results by the process of whether the patient is alive and well.” Adriaan admits that the Derby, in which Abashiri will bid to become only the third Triple Crown winner, is going to be “the longest few minutes of my life”. The enthusiasm for the sport effused by the Van Vuurens has been contagious to many friends and business acquaintances. “

Unfortunately, the reputation of the industry has stopped people from taking the first step. But since we have been in the game even lecturers who were working with us at university have wanted to get involved. As far as I’m concerned all those people and our staff are shareholders in the horses.”

He admits it would not be possible without the support of Rika. “Luckily I married a wife who has the same dedication and love for horses. I never planned for it to be as big as it is and there are some people who think we’re crazy. It’s not a profitable business but it is a business with heart.”