Two legends of the same cloth – Yet worlds apart!
The multiple champion trainer could saddle his second SA Triple Tiara winner. He is also poised to equal the legend Terrance Millard’s South African Gr1 record tally.
The cynics and experts may argue that we are clutching at straws in comparisons of two vastly different worlds. Is considering the achievements of two top trainers from two different generations and very alternate times really a meaningless and unfair exercise? The playing surfaces have changed dramatically since the dominance of Terrance Millard in the latter part of the 20th century.
The commercial and business orientated dynamics of today’s big training yards – where plenty of hard cash can move mountains and buy dreams – is a veritable playground of power where training horses and winning races has evolved into a corporate environment of feed, heed, need, speed – and inevitably even a dash of greed.
Terrance Millard did his marketing by training winners in a world where we only raced once or twice a week in a particular centre, and where Facebook and Twitter could have been swear words if used in the wrong context. But the hard facts remain – a Gr1 is a Gr1 – and they are never easy to win.
“I am honoured to be mentioned on the same pages as a legend like Terrance Millard. As a young man I aspired to follow in his footsteps. Records are there to be broken and while we celebrate them as milestones in our professional careers, we can’t slow down or hang our hats on them – life goes on. Let’s face it – we are all only as good as our next winner,” Mike de Kock told the Sporting Post.
As to the comparison merits of the Millard era versus today, the maestro was emphatic that they were chalk and cheese and said Mr Millard, for example, never had the opportunity to train winners abroad.
“Yesteryear they were horsemen. Full stop. Today we are MD’s, HR Managers, IT Managers, Social Media Managers, PR Specialists – and the rest. And our strings are bigger. The business model doesn’t frankly stack up unless you are training 100 horses. That’s the stark economic reality of it,” he quipped, adding that if he had the choice he would have relished being a pure racehorse trainer and horseman in days gone by. “In those days, we spoke to owners on landlines after working the horses in the mornings. The demands of social media and the intense scrutiny of the media 24/7 has its pro’s and cons. The pressure today is enormous. We talk about the good old days. How long did we survive without mobile phones, for example?” he laughed. “116 Gr1 winners is a rare achievement anywhere on earth,” says past Champion jockey Garth Puller, who adds that there are inevitable inequalities, even when comparing the likes of jockeys Lyle Hewitson and Muis Roberts and their respective achievements.
He says there is no doubt that both Millard and De Kock would go down in South African turf history as masters of their art.
“I rode for Peter Kannemeyer. We were effectively Terrance Millard’s opposition. I’m not shy to say the man was a genius. But anybody glossing over the history of South African horseracing from that era can readily see that. And fast forward twenty five years, and the record books and silverware speak similarly of Mike de Kock,” adds Puller
He suggested that comparisons were skewed by the realities of the times in which they were achieved and that it was fitting to acknowledge both.
“Of course it’s unfair to compare – they’re yesterday and today. Mike de Kock probably has the buying power that Terrance Millard could only have dreamt of – but that in a world where the rand went quite a bit further than it does today.” Puller added that De Kock was in the fortunate position of having earned the backing of powerful owners.
“Horses are bought overseas and imported. They are purchased here in training, raced and exported. Yards are bigger today. And the satellite concept has given the modern big yards firepower and diversity to optimise their strengths. That said, the business acumen and time that it takes to run this size operation means having the right people in the right positions. And it comes with great pressure. Winners don’t just happen. Mike has trained 11 international Gr1 winners. That is a remarkable achievement in any language,” said Puller, who added that De Kock’s record also had to be seen in the light of the fact that he was still a ‘relatively young man’.
Terrance Millard trained his first winner on 27 November 1954.
He was the first trainer to crack the R1 million stake barrier with 94 winners in the 1982/83 season and then bettered his own record when he broke the R2 million mark a few seasons later. He retired with a record of 117 Gr1’s, 44 Gr2’s, 37 Gr3’s and approximately 2500 winners to his credit. Mike de Kock reached the 3000 winner mark in March 2017. That illustrates one of the mathematical variances.
The Sporting Post contacted Terrance Millard for a comment. The legend, who turns 89 in December, gave a gracious thumbs up to his successor.
”That’s absolutely wonderful to hear. Mike de Kock is a top man. I wish him well and hope he goes on to many more Gr1 successes,” he said.
Bring on Champions Day – and another chapter in the career of a modern day hero of the SA turf.
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