PROFILE: Wendy Whitehead – Former show jumper shows she’s no slouch on SA’s training tracks

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PROFILE: Wendy Whitehead – Former show jumper shows she’s no slouch on SA’s training tracks

<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB"><span lang="EN-GB">WENDY WHITEHEAD has some prominent names amongst the owners in her yard, but says as a woman she has battled to get a number of people in horseracing circles to take her seriously.</span></span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“The women in this game have to be very tough and have broad shoulders,&rsquo;&rsquo; she says. “I bump up against the old-school mentality quite a lot – where it is considered that men are superior.&rsquo;&rsquo;<br />
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Photo: Wendy Whitehead</span></p>

<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">She hastens to add that her life partner and assistant Duncan Mckenzie is a huge support and that she intends to be the first woman since Jean Heming more than a decade ago to become a leading trainer in South Africa.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“You can&rsquo;t worry too much about things that happen,&rsquo;&rsquo; she says philosophically. “You just keep going. I&rsquo;ve got goals and intend to achieve them. We&rsquo;re on track and holding our own.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">The only woman who has trained more winners than Whitehead in the six years since she pinned on her trainer&rsquo;s badge is PE-based Yvette Bremner. Whitehead has trained 143 winners in her career; during that same period Bremner trained 145.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I was astounded when we added up all the winners a couple of months ago to realise that I&rsquo;d passed the 100-winner mark,&rsquo;&rsquo; Whitehead commented. “Possibly my greatest achievement in racing was being the top woman trainer in South Africa in only my third season (an accomplishment she repeated in the 2006-07 racing season that ended on 31 July). My goal for this season is to saddle 50 winners and we&rsquo;re on track with 10 already since 1 August.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Whitehead, who took over Tony Furness&rsquo; string when he stopped training, has 60 horses racing under her banner, 35 from her main yard at Summerveld and 25 in Mckenzie&rsquo;s care at the Vaal. Nearly 20 youngsters are in pre-training.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Her stable star, Chant de Nuit, was sold to Australian Paul Guy and has gone back into training in Cape Town. Rated 101 when she left the yard, Chant de Nuit won seven races for Whitehead including the Sycamore Sprint and Camellia Stakes, the trainer&rsquo;s biggest win so far. The Caesour mare also finished fourth behind Ethereal Lady in the Grade 1 SA Fillies Sprint last season.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“We&rsquo;ve sent most of our fillies off to stud. At the moment our best horse is Accord,&rsquo;&rsquo; Whitehead said. “He&rsquo;s a smart stayer and will be aimed at the Caradoc Gold Cup and Gold Bowl.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">The four-year-old Martinelli gelding, co-owned by Whitehead&rsquo;s biggest patron Nick Labuschagne and his son Kim, has won three races over 2400m and further. Another progressive stayer in the yard is Kahal five-year-old Windtalker, also owned by the Labuschagnes in partnership with Furness, and Whitehead has mapped out much the same feature-race schedule for him.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">She has high hopes that Kahalay, Bonito, Mrs Bouquet and Civil Guard will win their share of races as well this season.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“Civil Guard is a good sand horse and has now won two in a row at the Vaal. Kahalay has won his last three races and we&rsquo;re looking at the Computaform Sprint for him.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“Bonito is a nice handicapper who will win his races. We&rsquo;ve got nothing planned for him at the moment.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Perhaps another barrier Whitehead is encountering on her road to realising her ambitions is that she was not born into horseracing. She is, though, a complete equestrienne.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I&rsquo;ve been show jumping since the age of seven but figured out before I left school that there was no money to be made there. I couldn&rsquo;t make a business out of it. I wanted to work with horses, though. So I decided the best thing for me to do was to go into racing.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">On leaving school Whitehead, who was born in Durban on 26 January 1970, got a job on Craig Ramsay&rsquo;s stud farm in Mooi River.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I got a basic knowledge of broodmares, foaling down, breaking in yearlings and pre-training. After a few years, I got bored and took a job with Snowy Reid. He was best known for horses like Kingston Town, Air Attack, Hello Dolly and Lord Fonteroy. After two years, I became assistant trainer to Tony Furness and was with him for 11 years.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Horses she cut her teeth on included Jungle Chant, feature-race winner League Title, Persian Tango, above-average Wild Aster and seven-time winner Night Cap.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">When Furness pulled out of racing, he handed the reins over to Whitehead. “I started out with just 18 horses and have built up from there,&rsquo;&rsquo; said the trainer, whose first winner aptly raced in her former mentor&rsquo;s silks <span style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp;</span>- Big Bay won at Scottsville on 21 October 2001. </span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">A couple of years later, Mckenzie handed in his trainer&rsquo;s license to become Whitehead&rsquo;s assistant and eight months ago they enlarged the operation to include the satellite yard at the Vaal.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“There&rsquo;s more buying power in Johannesburg and business is going so nicely up there, that we plan to keep the satellite yard open,&rsquo;&rsquo; said Whitehead, who adds that she and their son Damon (12) have adapted well to the long-distance relationship. “Duncan comes down to Durban for a couple of weeks every now and then.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Their assistant is Whitehead&rsquo;s cousin Nicola van Kraayenberg, who is an able substitute when Mckenzie heads east to visit his family. Stable employee Isaac Mvilla helps with the day-to-day running of the Summerveld yard and management of Whitehead&rsquo;s 22 grooms.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Laurence O&rsquo;Donoghue rides most of the Durban work with Brandon Lerena and Robbie Hill sharing the race-rides at the coast, while Stephen Swanepoel is the Vaal stable&rsquo;s jockey and principal work rider.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Both Whitehead and Mckenzie are more than satisfied with the training facilities: “The tracks at both centres are world-class,&rsquo;&rsquo; says Whitehead. “At Summerveld I have fantastic facilities. There are 41 stables with huge open spaces for my horses. It&rsquo;s beautiful here. Duncan is very satisfied with the conditions at the Vaal and loves racing from there. Everyone says the Vaal tracks are the best in the country.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">The satellite base has already yielded huge dividends with a few new names amongst the stable&rsquo;s list of patrons and Mckenzie saddling 11 winners.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I have fantastic owners. Apart from Tony and Nick Labuschagne, who is the backbone of my yard, people who own horses with me include Nick&rsquo;s son Kim, Team Valor (unraced What&rsquo;s Your Sign, “who I think is quite smart&rsquo;&rsquo;), Matthew McElligott (Sargeant Major, who has placed three times in five career starts), Param Joseph, Luan Kalidin (Kahalay), Bernadine Applegreen (Risk Seeker), Anant Singh, Maine Chance Farms (Bonito), Robin Hamilton, Des Scott, Peter and Maureen Booysen, commentators Sheldon and Craig Peters, Backworth Stud and a Kenyan Aris Grammaticas (five-time winner Jargon, Parodist and now-retired Mesopotamia). </span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“All of my patrons are important to the yard. It&rsquo;ll take their help and backing for us to flourish,&rsquo;&rsquo; said Whitehead, who readily admits that she is, perhaps, too blunt for her own good.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“An outgoing personality and skill at dealing with people is an essential characteristic for a top trainer,&rsquo;&rsquo; she says. “Unfortunately, I&rsquo;m very straightforward, sometimes too straightforward. I call a spade a spade. But one thing my patrons can be sure of is that I always tell them the truth – and my horses come first with me. I am very patient with them and they get as much TLC as I can give them. I&rsquo;m doing this because I love horses. I&rsquo;m not in racing for the money.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">She then chuckles. “Of course, if I could do anything differently, I&rsquo;d start out with a couple of million in the bank!</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“No seriously, there&rsquo;s nothing we could have done differently. We&rsquo;ve gone about it the best way we could. We don&rsquo;t have patrons who spend huge money on their horses, but the horses we have had have done well by all of us.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“All of them have been reasonably priced and have produced the goods, earning their keep, plus. Take Chant de Nuit, for instance. She cost only R22&nbsp;000 and earned over R550&nbsp;000. As long as we keep performing, we&rsquo;ll realise our objectives.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">While Whitehead is forging a name for herself in racing circles, she is also still active in show jumping. She has high hopes that her “new boy&rsquo;&rsquo;, City Edition (a seven-time winner for the stable including the Byerley Turk, her first feature-race success), will keep her in the show-jumping limelight.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“He retired in June and is being schooled at the moment. He&rsquo;s showing a lot of promise,&rsquo;&rsquo; she said. “It&rsquo;s amazing how horses who were really competitive on the racetrack often go on to do incredibly well at show jumping and dressage. Their competitive spirit doesn&rsquo;t retire when they leave training.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Like City Edition, Wendy Whitehead and Duncan Mckenzie are unlikely to lose their competitive edge anytime soon and it&rsquo;ll be no surprise to anybody if they become regular visitors to the No 1 box in the coming months.</span></p>

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