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By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent

Mike de Kock has ‘fire in the belly’ with global ambitions

The world-renowned trainer is keen to embark on international campaigns again.

Look out racing world! Here comes Mike de Kock.

The master trainer from Joburg is looking forward to “interesting times ahead” following this week’s news that direct export of South African horses will soon be possible.

“I have what can be described as fire in my belly today,” declared De Kock on his website.

“I know South Africa produces thoroughbreds that can compete around the world. Now that the playing fields are level, we can return to international competition.

“My son Mathew tells me every day of his belief that our runners will hold their own in Australia, especially over a mile and up. I look forward to seeing our runners take on the Aussies in their backyard.”

Mathew de Kock, formerly an assistant to his father, moved to Australia to train horses at a time when there seemed to be little imminent likelihood of international equine travel.

Returning to Dubai

“And then there is Dubai, where our former infrastructure remains accessible to us,” added De Kock senior.

“We have stables and equipment, and now we can return with our horses to fill those stables. In recent seasons the Dubai Carnival has lost its competitive edge and with that some of its glamour,” he asserted.

The famous, richly endowed Dubai World Cup meeting will be staged this coming Saturday and the continued absence of the fiercely competitive De Kock and other South African trainers – due to massive transport obstacles placed in their way by the European Union, out of fear of African horse sickness (AHS) – will once again be lamented.

Approved zones

But next year it will all be different, with the EU having approved the Kenilworth quarantine station and surrounding Western Cape areas as AHS-free “approved zones”.

Instead of arduous, months-long journeys via third countries, which killed off foreign campaigning, South African racehorses will be able to fly to destinations around the world after a short pre-export quarantine in Cape Town.

“Perhaps the time has come for us to send some runners to the UAE again, to restore healthy competition, international flair and traditional rivalries,” commented De Kock.

There’s unlikely to be any “perhaps” about it.

Showing gratitude

The Randjesfontein-based conditioner poured out thanks to all the people who worked to get the EU prohibition removed, making special mention of erstwhile horse owner Chris van Niekerk, the prime mover in establishing SA Equine Health and Protocols (SAEHP), a body set up in 2018 with the sole purpose of improving the export system.

De Kock revealed that in the early days Van Niekerk often funded SAEHP out of his own pocket, as the endeavor hit “major obstacles and unforeseen delays”.

Others on De Kock’s thank-you list are SAEHP chief Adrian Todd, who “kept his head down and continued to press on” despite being maligned by frustrated people in the racing and breeding industries; current SAEHP chairman David Abery; and Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, who threw considerable weight behind the cause.

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