x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

De Kock planning his assault on new season

The trainer picks out seven horses from South Africa that he wants to run in Dubai in January.

Construction work is underway on the grandstand surrounding the new race track which is a part of Meydan project where spectators can arrive by canals carved in the desert.
Construction work is underway on the grandstand surrounding the new race track which is a part of Meydan project where spectators can arrive by canals carved in the desert.

The trainer, Mike de Kock, is holed up in Newmarket, the centre of the English racing world, in a rented apartment with spectacular views over the famous Warren Hill gallops and it is from here that he plans his assault on the new Dubai season. De Kock is a short drive from the Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa-owned yard he shares with another Newmarket trainer, Jane Chapple-Hyam, where he oversees his English operations.

He has had important campaigns in England this season, but foremost in his mind right now is the fact that the seven horses he wants to run in Dubai in January, must start their lengthy journey from South Africa to the Emirate today due to strict quarantine rules. Although there may well be more before the season starts, the batch of seven horses have to go to the Free Zone in Cape Town where they spend 60 days in isolation.

They will spend a 30 days in Europe before travelling to Dubai and have to wait a final six days in the quarantine yard before training proper can begin. "It's a real pain," he says. "Most trainers are not even thinking about Dubai yet, but we are only thinking about Dubai. "Most people's horses won't need to get into transit for months; mine start on the fifth of August to only start racing in January."

De Kock has been training horses for Dubai's winter season since 2003 and made an immediate impact on the UAE racing scene by winning two contests on Dubai World Cup night - the Group One Dubai Duty Free with star filly Ipi Tombe and the Group Two UAE Derby with Victory Moon. Many successes followed at the Nad Al Sheba course, but de Kock knows that all that count for little after the former home of racing witnessed the last race.

The new Meydan development, which opens for business on January 28, offers an entirely new stage on which he and his fellow trainers can perform for previously unheard of riches. "It does raise the stakes," he admits. "Prize money is set to double this year for the Dubai International Carnival, but it is the season showpiece, the Dubai World Cup, which has set even the most jaded heads spinning in the racing world with a mind-boggling US$10million (Dh 36.8m) on offer. It is also a race that de Kock is yet to win.

When talking about the new venue, most people fixate on the 60,000-seater grandstand, the IMAX cinema, or the luxury hotels and restaurants, but de Kock, like every other trainer, is more interested in the two tracks - one a 2,400m turf track running around the outside of a 1,750m all-weather track, the exact nature of which is yet to be announced by Dubai Racing Club. "The track is key," he said. "It's fair to say that anything that replaces what they had before will be better because the other track was hurting the horses' legs. It will definitely encourage trainers to bring better horses to Dubai, if they think they can remain sound."

De Kock and one of his principle owners, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, have long been bringing talented horses to Dubai and the new season will be no exception. "We have some great prospects for the season," says the trainer. "We are looking at some very promising Classics horses and it's something we are very excited about." stregoning@thenational.ae