When a life-long dream, put aside for 30 years, suddenly becomes possible, it’s a gift most people grab with both hands and treasure. That is precisely what Paul Anthony Peter is doing.
The day his punter father first showed him “the ponies” as a 10-year-old, Peter fell in love and determined that one day he would be a racehorse trainer.
From that day on throughout his youth he would walk from his home in Booysens and smuggle himself into Turffontein Racecourse – those were the days when no under 18s were allowed at the races. He’d sometimes get caught and chased off by security.
But while they might manage to shoo him outside the perimeter, he’d just go round the corner to hang on the fences closest to the track “just so I could catch a glimpse of them”.
On rare occasions his Uncle Mikey, who owned racehorses, would take him to Dave Marks’ stables.
“I just wanted to be around the horses, that was one of my best things,” he said.
Even though he was the “spoilt laat lametjie” of a big, loving family that ran a Jozi paint business, Hyper Paint (now a Pty Ltd company), training racehorses was not part of the game plan when he left school.
The business, started by his Dad, was rapidly growing under the leadership of his brothers Gerrad, Johnny and Dominic as well as his sisters Jennifer and Soraya and they needed him in the fold.
However, after 22 years, when the company was finally stable, he was given a pass by his family and set off to pursue his dream.
Just like any other profession, racehorse trainers have to undergo a period of education before they are given a trainer’s licence.
Peter “apprenticed” himself to a veteran of the racing industry, James Maree – the man who conceptualised and developed the Work Riders’ Programme, the industry’s most successful BEE initiative. He set out to learn as much as he could about this challenging sport. “James taught me a lot,” said Peter.
“He’s one of the most knowledgeable horsemen I have ever met. He knows horses and he’s a good man who loves to teach.”
Driven to get his own trainers’ licence, he learnt quickly and was soon ready to pass the trainer’s exam. He pinned on his trainer’s badge in early 2010, opening up a stable at the Vaal with just seven horses.
About 18 months ago, with many more horses in his care, he relocated to Turffontein.
“Since then I’ve become friends with another top-class horseman, Ormond Ferraris. He is incredibly knowledgeable and so, so good to me. We need more people willing to pass their knowledge on.”
Having waited so long for his dream to become a reality it would be great to say his first runner was a winner and that it came at the same racecourse he’d spent so much time as a youth, but life is not a fairytale.
Peter had to wait a little while longer for that experience – three months, during which he saddled 33 runners. But the day finally arrived.
He had a young horse with immense ability called Magico. This was a horse Peter knew well because he’d started training him while still with Maree and had already won two races with him.
Magico was due to run in Durban at the final race meeting of the 2009-10 racing season in a fairly low-key Juvenile Plate over 1 000m. The youngster was backed to 12-10 and duly arrived, much to the joy and excitement of the entire Peter family. After all, Magico was owned by Gerrad and a cousin, Joel.
“Magico was my first winner and then my first feature-race winner – he won the Grade 3 Tommy Hotspur less than a year after I took out my licence,” said Peter.
“And he is still with me today, my stable mascot, even though he retired in 2014.”
Peter now trains 95 horses and has enjoyed 325 “champagne moments” in the winners’ enclosure. Eighteen of those celebrations (nearly half his annual average) have come in the last two months, an indication of his stable’s red-hot form.