Suzette Viljoen is South Africa’s 2020/21 champion racehorse owner – for now. A bit of confusion has clouded the issue: are restricted races included in the scoring or not? If not, Suzette wins, with Drakenstein Stud’s Gaynor Rupert second, and Chris van Niekerk third. If the restricted races are counted in, Van Niekerk wins, with Rupert second and Viljoen third.
The champion owner title is decided by the total amount of stake money won over the season. With restricted or sales races having unusually large purses – thanks to their subscription conditions – they can have a “distorting effect” on the stakes aggregate.
Anyway, for now, Viljoen is the champ and most people in racing are happy because she is new to the game and has spent a shedload of money on horses – thus preserving an unspecifiable number of jobs. Also, she is a salt-of-the-earth woman, full of enthusiasm, who cheers everyone up when interviewed on the telly after a win.
Viljoen, who, with husband Basie, farms cattle near Schweizer-Reneke in North West – and has other business interests – bought her first thoroughbred in February 2018. She’d always hankered after owning racehorses but didn’t know how to go about it until she met trainer Corrie Lensley, then the supremo at Flamingo Park in Kimberley.
People talk about being bitten by the racing bug, but Suzette appears to have been swallowed whole.
She now owns well over 100 horses, spread across the yards of just about every trainer in the country. This sort of generous patronage has got everyone saying her champion title is well deserved.
Indeed, with racing in a troubled state at the moment, one could hardly ask for more than an enthusiast with deep pockets to help it recover. One imagines both Rupert and Van Niekerk, seasoned racing folk that they are, will be happy with the title-race outcome as it stands.
Viljoen’s stakes earnings for the season were in the region of R5.5 million, which might sound like a lot, but which would not have come anywhere near covering her spending over the period.
A chunk of those winnings came courtesy of the champion filly Captain’s Ransom. But there was also sadness: a favourite runner, staying gelding Atyaab, broke down in the Gold Vase and had to be euthanised.
Suzette Viljoen has had a rapid and eventful climb to the top of the South African racing tree, with her blue (for the Bulls rugby team) and shocking pink (for women) silks appearing at pretty much every race meeting. When the disgraced Markus Jooste’s colours were omnipresent, there was a lot of concern about his dominance of the game, but it seems the racing world is a lot more welcoming to the new champion.