Natie Kotzen pulls it off for the little guys
Former De Kock assistant knows what’s fast and what’s not
Royal Victory, ridden by jockey Muzi Yeni, wins the Grade 1 Betway Summer Cup, 25 November 2023, at Turffontein Racecourse. Picture: Michel Bega/The Citizen
Jockey Muzi Yeni is an assured, forthright fellow, never short of an opinion or two – a big part of why he’s so popular with horse racing fans.
You don’t often see him emotionally choked up, but it happened on Saturday after he’d won the Grade 1 Betway Summer Cup at Turffontein.
The emotion wasn’t just because it was his first win in Joburg’s biggest horse race, it was also because he’d done it for trainer Natie Kotzen.
With outrider-interviewer Andrew Bon’s mic-on-a-stick in his face, as he returned Royal Victory to the winner’s circle, Yeni said in a trembling voice: “He taught me all my life how to ride! He taught me you can’t be nervous.”
Kotzen was an assistant trainer to the master, Mike de Kock, for 16 long years back in the day – when Yeni was apprenticed to the powerful yard.
The diminutive appy hailed from Umlazi and was being schooled at Summerveld near Hillcrest, so much of his early experience and tuition was at the hands of Durban-based Kotzen.
The jockey continued: “Nathan Kotzen is a champion trainer in my eyes!” And later: “And for Nathan … it is merit rewarded.”
Beyond those words, the Summer Cup triumph was proof of excellence for one of the “smaller” training yards in the country.
Vastly experienced Natie knew he had a good one on his hands in Royal Victory and – once the four-year-old son of Pathfork had shown stamina capabilities by winning the 1900m Michaelmas Handicap in soft ground at Greyville in mid-October – he supplemented him into the R5-million Betway Summer Cup.
After all, Royal Victory had already shown an affinity for Turffontein during a five-race Highveld campaign a year earlier – which yielded a win in the Grade 3 Tony Ruffel Stakes and four money finishes.
Ante-post odds of 70-1 and a starting price of 33-1 seem deluded in hindsight. As Kotzen commented: “No-one seemed to think he could do it, but I always had the confidence in him; so did the owners…”
And Natie Kotzen would know: you do not survive for 16 years as De Kock’s right-hand man, supervising a plethora of world-class horses every winter season, without knowing what’s fast and what’s slow.
De Kock, who saddled Summer Cup runner-up Safe Passage, was among the first people to congratulate his former employee, enveloping the slightly built Kotzen in a burly bear-hug in the parade ring.
Kotzen personally accompanied the float carrying his precious charge from Durban to Joburg – in the old school style of the great Fred Rickaby, in the days when Natal raiders to the Highveld never started at 33-1.
On the N Kotzen Racing Facebook page, among a deluge of well-wishing, is a video of the trainer proudly unloading his cargo back home at Summerveld.
“Our CHAMPION boy ROYAL VICTORY is HOME!”
The new hero was accompanied on the return journey by a new yard acquisition from Sunday’s BSA Two Year Old Sale in Germiston, a promising-looking filly by Act Of War who Kotzen bought for R70,000. She’s got a lot to live up to.
Royal Victory was bought for just R90,000 for owners Peter Victor, Brandon Wiese and Natasha Sturdy, who lit up Turffontein with their infectious victory celebrations.
Kotzen, the brother of prominent Cape Town trainer Glen and son of erstwhile jockey and trainer Nathan Snr, has been involved in racing all his life.
He took out his own training licence in 2017 and this was his finest hour – so far.