Whatever the outcome of this afternoon’s Vodacom Durban July, it will be a poignant experience for the Bass family. It will be the last Durban July in which the name Mike Bass will appear next to a runner in the Grade 1 race.
At the end of this month he will retire and hand the stable reins over to his daughter Candice.
In August last year, Mike took ill during the Cape Awards dinner. His condition worsened and he was rushed to hospital. He was placed in an induced coma and had to have a leg amputated after it became dangerously infected. The infection could have proved fatal, but Mike pulled through, although his life was forever changed.
“It will be quite emotional,” concedes Mike. “Retiring is not something I want, it’s something that’s been forced on me. Unfortunately I’m not quite as active as I would like to be these days.
“But I’m happy for Candice to take over. She’s got a very good idea of what’s happening, she’s very bright and has a natural feel.”
Michael William Bass, born on February 2 1945, attended Wynberg Boys High School in the Cape and later Stellenbosch University, where he received his agricultural technology Diploma.
He became an amateur trainer for a small riding school and worked as a stud manager for two years. In 1976, he took out his trainer’s licence and, over the next 40 years, managed to establish himself as one of the most respected and successful trainers in the country. He has won the Durban July three times, the first in 2001 with Trademark, who won in record time with Piere Strydom up.
In 2005, Mike picked up his second Durban July with Dunford, who had Anton Marcus aboard, and his third in 2008 with Pocket Power, who dead-heated with Dancer’s Daughter.
“Winning the Durban July has always been great. It’s not an easy race to win but I would love to think we’ve got a shot this year with Marinaresco,” Bass says.
Some people have questioned whether the three-year-old son of Silvano should be in the final field, but Bass disagrees.
“He deserves a run on what he’s done. The bookmakers have a fair idea and they have him up quite short.
“He’s very small but he has a terrific turn of foot. He’s prett y smart. I’m not sure if we’ve done the right thing. We’ve probably given up the R250 000 bonus he could have collected for winning the Winter Series. It’s not my style to run a three-year-old in the July, but Marinaresco’s done so well in his last couple of features and the owners wanted to have a runner.
“The No 19 draw is a shocker but I think the track, with its short run-in, will suit this little fellow.”
Bass rates Pocket Power the best he ever trained.
“He was tricky. He started off late because he was always unsound. The vets couldn’t find what was wrong. I decided to keep him at home during his three-year career and he won the Winter Series.”
The following year Bass took him to Durban, but he didn’t have a great season – but the next year he came back and claimed the Durban July crown, although he had to share it with the queen of the turf, Dancer’s Daughter.
“It’s all very well to have a champion, but getting him to win the July isn’t easy. Even if a horse is way above the rest, a lot depends on how the race is run. Often the pace can decide the outcome,” says Bass.
“In 2009 I really believed Pocket Power would win again but they absolutely crawled up front. I had an ordinary filly in the race as well, Thundering Jet, and she finished fourth, with Pocket Power in fifth. The two were not in the same league.
“Pocket Power was special but quirky. He wasn’t bad tempered, just very highly strung.
“He was very hyper, especially after a race, and was not easy to lead or hold. Other than that, he was a mild-tempered horse.”
Bass confirmed he would be at Greyville on Saturday.
“It’s not easy for me to travel these days, but I will be there.”
And how will life change for him on August 1?
“I’ll just carry on going to work every morning and continue doing what I’ve been doing – perhaps just a bit less. But it will all be in Candice’s name.”