Industry Press

Pandemic doesn’t sway de Kock’s Aussie ambition

Moving to a new country in the midst of a global pandemic could have derailed Mat de Kock’s plans to set up his own training operation in Australia, but while the son of South Africa’s greatest trainer is keen to make his mark, he is using the current situation to learn all he can about Australian racing.

De Kock and his partner Monique arrived in Australia in early March, just days before the COVID-19 crisis shut down international borders as well as restricting movement within the country itself.

While Mat and Monique had intended to see a bit of Australia before he got down to work at their new base of Cranbourne, he has instead just put his head down working for local trainer Robbie Griffiths learning the ropes as he awaits approval for his trainer’s licence from Racing Victoria.

“It’s been a positive from my point of view, in that I have been able to just settle and focus on work. Coming to Australia, you want to go and do all the tourist sights and get around the town, but from that point of view, I’ve been able to focus on work and get into the routine,” de Kock told TDN AusNZ.

“It’s been a positive from my point of view, in that I have been able to just settle and focus on work.” – Mathew de Kock

“Things start a lot earlier in Australia than what we do back home, so that is a bit of a change but there was no racing for a long period back home. That helped me not miss home as much. It’s been a very interesting first few months.”

Griffiths (below) is a highly respected horseman and de Kock has been absorbing every lesson he can while working with him before he strikes out on his own in the next 6-12 months.

“He’s been great. There’s a lot of things that are different, but at the end of the day, essentially it is the same animal that you are working with. The day to day running of things might be different, but at the end of the day, training horses is all the same,” de Kock said.

“Robbie has been great at explaining a lot of different things with programming horses and handicapping. Just the general running of his stable is very different to back home. I have been able to offer some advice for the treadmills and stuff like that. We have been able to bounce ideas off one another. It’s been very good.”

The Victorian town of Wangaratta is not on too many travel bucket lists for 20-something South Africans, but this week, de Kock found himself headed up the Hume Freeway, entrusted by Griffiths to saddle up Divine Honours (Reward For Effort).

De Kock proved a lucky charm as Divine Honours broke his maiden at start number six, prevailing at odds of $21.

No rush to start new operation

As for his own training interests, COVID-19 may have delayed things somewhat, but he is hoping to get the paperwork done in the next few months to get things up and running in 2021.

“I’ve made an application to Racing Victoria for a licence and everything has been slowed down a bit with the coronavirus situation. That’s not a big thing in my mind. The first six months to a year, I’m just here to learn and observe and see how racing is run before I dive in to racing horses,” he said.

“The first six months to a year, I’m just here to learn and observe and see how racing is run before I dive in to racing horses.” – Mathew de Kock

“I think it’s also important to see if we enjoy it, which we are at the moment. I don’t want to dive in and then you find yourself after a few months wanting to go back home. You have wasted a lot of your own and other peoples’ time.

“I always wanted to get settled, learn as much as I can before I am tied down to training. It’s been a moving target with the corona thing, but it’s probably six months to a year away.”

His dad, Mike de Kock, has been a constant sounding board, and is also keen for his son to see plenty of Australia before he decides to settle down to the hard work of running his own operation at Cranbourne.

“He’s missing me, but he wants me to get around and travel and see different parts of Australia, and so hopefully that’s on the agenda,” he said.

“I’d love to go to Sydney, spend some time with some different people. We have some South African connections, jockeys and trainers around Australia. People are all willing to have me, so when we can move freely and safely, I’ll be looking to do that.”

De Kocks look to import success

Also key to de Kock’s training prospects in Australia will be the possibility of him getting some quality horses from his father’s operation in South Africa. Mike de Kock trained a couple of feature winners in South Africa last weekend, including Hawwaam (SAF) (Silvano {Ger}), who won his fifth Group 1, defeating Australian-bred stablemate Soqrat (Epaulette), while he also quinella-ed the G2 Nursery S. with Australian-bred 2-year-olds Mount Pleasant (Vancouver) and Najem Suhail (Starspangledbanner).

Hawwaam (Silvano)

Hawwaam (Silvano)

“It’s good for the team back at home. They have got a really nice bunch of horses and it would be fantastic if some of them could come and compete here,” Mat de Kock said. “A lot of them are Australian-bred, so they are definitely up to the standard. They are nice horses and it would be great to have them over there.”

That plan is being hampered by the current export protocols, which are making it close to impossible for the de Kock family to get their horses out of South Africa, with long quarantine periods required.

“The European Union was supposed to inspect in South Africa in April, and obviously with the corona outbreak they couldn’t come. That was obviously a big knock for us, but hopefully that can be sorted out sooner rather than later and that will help in getting horses out of the country,” he said.

“It’s a lot to go through to get them back here but it would be a nice way to start with horses you know have ability.”

He also said he and his father expect to be busy at the 2021 yearling sales, buying up horses for his Australian stable.

But the big question remains whether Mike de Kock may end up in Australia training with his son, something he has suggested is a possibility before.

Mat said it may well be on his agenda, but it was a far from straight-forward decision.

“It’s a very difficult decision as I am sure you can understand. But it is definitely something that is on his mind. He is helping South African racing through these tough times, so he doesn’t want to just leave, but he sees the allure in moving over here and maybe ending off his career in an overseas country,” he said.

“It’s a moving target and something that might change. It’s a lot easier for me to move out here and commit but it’s a big thing for him.”

Copy: Bren O’Brien, Thoroughbred Daily News Australia New Zealand