The woman taking charge in SA’s horse racing industry

Cape Town – From jockeys to racehorse owners, the
global horse racing industry is often regarded as a man’s world.

It is
therefore unsurprising that the list of South Africa’s top racehorse trainers
is almost exclusively male.

However, one name stands apart from the rest –
Candice Robinson – a rose among the thorns, sitting in fourth place on the
country’s trainer log.

Since taking over as head trainer at Bass Racing Stables
last year, Robinson has been steaming ahead of the competition, having already
achieved 72 wins from 682 starts. With her sights set firmly on success,
Robinson is proving that women are every bit as good and, in some ways, perhaps
even better than their gentlemanly counterparts.

When questioned about why there are
so few women in her industry Robinson is quick to respond that it’s because of
old stereotypes and prejudices.

She explains: “In reality there is nothing that
makes men more capable trainers than women. What you need to excel in this
industry is an ability to understand horses, you’re either a horseman or you’re
not.”

She continues: “Every horse is
different and their temperaments and type of horse (sprinter or distance)
dictate how they should be trained. Some are ready for racing a few months
after reaching the stables, others can take a full year to come to hand.
Patience and compassion are key and these distinctly female traits go a far way
towards training a champion racehorse.”

As the daughter of the legendary thoroughbred trainer Mike Bass, Robinson developed a passion for the animals at
a young age. She claims that being able to enjoy horses is essential component
of her job and when considering the amount of time spent in their company, one
begins to understand why. Working with racehorses is a job that doesn’t stop,
they need to be cared for and exercised seven days a week.  

Robinson adds: “People sometimes
forget that a horse is an animal, not a machine. They are unpredictable and
there is a frustrating tendency for things to go wrong.”

This includes everything from horses
coming up lame on the day of a big race to late night calls should a horse fall
ill. Bass Racing Stables currently has 130 horses in Cape Town and Robinson manages
the large staff contingent, including 60 grooms, who are responsible for their
training and care. 

However, according to Robinson, the
most stressful aspect of her job is the responsibility of meeting her clients’
expectations. Racehorse owners put a huge amount of trust in their trainers,
from selecting a great horse at auction to preparing it to be a champion on the
racetrack.

Thoroughbreds are usually purchased
as yearlings (approximately 18 months of age) at auctions such as the National
Yearling Sale held by Bloodstock South Africa, the sales arm of the
Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA). The selection and purchase of a
racehorse is often entrusted to a trainer and a horse with the right pedigree
and physical attributes can command prices that reach into the millions.

“When
a client invests in a million Rand horse they expect great things,” explains
Robinson.

“However, predicting whether a young thoroughbred has the ability to
be a champion is no simple task.”

“It’s
a bit like looking at a six-year-old child with gangly legs and saying that
he’ll grow up to be a great athlete,” adds Mark Bass, Robinson’s brother and the
Marketing Manager at Bass Racing Stables.

Despite this, Robinson definitely has
a knack for choosing winners and earlier this year a thoroughbred trained by
her won the Grade 1 Klawervlei Majorca Stakes run at the Sun Met – a
sought-after feather for any trainer’s cap.

This, only one year into her tenure
as at Bass Racing, proves that Robinson is a lady who is doing big things in a
man’s world.

Robinson, in her debut season as a fully-fledged
horse trainer, made history last Saturday when she landed her first Vodacom Durban July title.

Marinaresco, ridden by jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe, powered to victory
in the closing stages of Africa’s premier horseracing event, in front of 55 000
spectators at Greyville Racecourse – and pocketed a R2.5 million winner’s cheque.

In the process Robinson become the first woman trainer to win the race.

Marinarescowins the 2017 Vodacom Durban July, with trainer Candice Robinson second from right (Supplied)