J&B MET 2013
This is an extraordinary story. It’s often hard to understand where big harvests come from, and Sabine Plattner and her racehorse trainer, Yogas Govender, are the best evidence of it. From opposite poles of the earth, like us, they have in common their modest beginnings. Sabine grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression and a Second World War which destroyed her homeland. She was a village girl from a humble but typically hard-working German family, and the forests around her birthplace, Waldshut, near the Swiss border were a family refuge of tranquillity, where the silence and the smells were a balm for the aftermath of the conflict. She sat on a horse for the first time at the age of two, when her parents couldn’t afford riding lessons, and she remains indebted to an aunt who sponsored these when she was a teenager.
Those of us who share her vintage, will tell you that growing up, our parents insisted we seek out a career in the professions before we ventured anywhere else, and Sabine’s destiny in those days was teaching. Along the way, she married Hasso, best known as the founder of SAP, one of the world’s pre-eminent computer management software companies, and whose triumphs in business were matched only by his sportsmanship. When his ocean racer, Morning Glory, took the line honours at St.David’s Lighthouse, his team had shaved 5 hours off the Newport/Bermuda record, pushing the sport into a new era. They did it again in the Sydney to Hobart.
At a time when the world had doubts as to where we were headed, the Plattner’s showed the attributes that’ve made them what they are. Not for them the timorous faintheart nor the “wait-and-see” of most of us. This was a call to arms, South Africa’s time had come, and she needed all the help she could get.
In the year in which Nelson Mandela became our first democratic President, the Plattners dug the first foundations for their world-renowned golfing estate, Fancourt; not long afterwards, Sabine made her first real estate acquisitions in the horse business, La Plaisance Stud in George and the Rondeberg Training Centre up the West Coast.
There are no shortcuts with this lady, and while I’ve yet to set foot on La Plaisance, I can tell you that Rondeberg compares with any private training establishment anywhere; it is unique in the world as the only one in a wild sanctuary. A fortnight ago, her fortitude was rewarded with a second J&B Met victory. There’s more on this dynamo in a forthcoming edition in these columns, but at the personal level, it was gratifying to read in a recent interview that her shining moment in racing was Angus’ victory in the 2003 J&B Met. Those on hand remember the Cape Town University students cradling her on a conveyer belt of arms to the Winner’s circle, aloft of the throng that stood in her path to glory. Angus was bred and raised at Summerhill with our clients of two and a half decades, Rodney Thorpe and Roger Zeeman, and was the second J&B Met victor for the farm’s most famous resident, Northern Guest.
Yogas’ story is an inspiration. His is a tale of the kid from the other side of the tracks in the South Africa of the early 1990s. While it’s true that today, the “Apaches” are well and truly in town (think Alesh Naidoo, Dayalan Chinsamy, Satch Mathem, Anthony Govender,) and are on their way to altering the demographics of racehorse ownership in this country forever, as we entered the 90s, there were just a handful of Indian owners, few of them with sizeable interests. For sure, this guy had the “illness” from a very early age, but there was scant opportunity for a youngster from a non-racing background, who’d never thrown a leg over a horse in his life, particularly if he was Indian and without qualification. That was the South Africa of those days, and few of us can imagine the impact on our self-esteem when, as a school-leaver, your enquiry to the Durban Turf Club about educational programmes for career-seekers in the game, was met with “don’t waste your time, you’ll battle to get in”. By 2001 Yogas Govender was more determined than ever to pursue his childhood dreams, and the characteristics that have made him what he is today, are what made them a reality. He knocked on every trainer’s door in the country, but just two replied. One of them, unsurprisingly, was Glen Kotzen, who needed somebody but was unable to oblige Yogas for his lack of experience.
Kotzen had opened the door however, if only slightly, and the young Govender set out for Clairwood Park at 4am in the April of 2002 for a meeting that was to reshape his life. Kotzen’s stonewalled advice that this was “not the glamour job people think it is,” fell on deaf ears, and Govender’s persistence paid off. He offered to work for no pay, if only Kotzen would give him the chance. He did. A decade later, and in just his third year as a licensed trainer, he took the 2013 running of the J&B Met with an injury-plagued seven-year-old that was retired immediately afterwards. Martial Eagle had risen, in the manner of his owner and trainer, from a merit rating in the 80s to winning the “big one” in a space of six months. The modesty of the man is as plain today as it was twenty-two years ago when he went cap in hand to the Durban Turf Club. “You don’t find champions, they find you. Martial Eagle just found me”.