Mark van Deventer: Trainer Neil Bruss who has worked in many racing jurisdictions during an accomplished career stretching over four decades, is on the move again. He will be going back to Saudi Arabia, lured by tempting financial incentives and disillusioned by prospects in South Africa.
A former multiple champion trainer in Zimbabwe, he has operated small strings in a low key manner out of Durban and Cape Town in recent years. “People just don’t realise how good he is, look how well he does with the horses he has under his care,” said top rider, Bernard Fayd’ Herbe, himself making a strong impression in Mauritius after moving recently to the island.
The adventuresome Bruss worked in England and the Middle East, and was even involved years ago in trying to set up horseracing in Madagascar. A forthright and sociable fellow, Bruss has accumulated immense experience on his travels, achieving a great deal in a roller-coaster career.
South African race-goers may remember his impeccable to-the-minute preparation of Zebra Crossing to win the Met back in 2006, and he cashed in big time when training a PE refugee, Paris Perfect, and a rejuvenated former lead horse, Muller, into third and fourth place finishes in the2009 Dubai World Cup. Bruss is equally adept at getting the best out of lesser athletes competing at the lower levels of the game, setting up neat touches for connections. Last Saturday, Zante and Deputy Ryder completed a stable Exacta in the Queen Palm Stakes at Greyville, with the winner receiving astute betting action from 8s into 4-1.
But, the financial squeeze is on for racehorse trainers battling cruel economics. Horsemen have to grapple with constantly rising costs, together with difficulties in finding and retaining owners willing to pay at a training fee margin that makes all the hard work sufficiently remunerative.
Bruss found the narrow spread of potential owners in Cape Town limiting to business. He was also embroiled in issues relating to the number of runs per box guidelines there. Forays to KZN have not been any smoother, with Bruss bumping heads in protest against tightening restrictions being placed on the participation of visiting trainers.
“It’s not worth it to train to make a profit of only a few hundred per horse in fees, and stakes have gone backwards,” he bemoaned. So, despite the Spartan living conditions that he must yet again adapt to, he’s accepted a one-year contract in Saudi. Bruss will be handsomely compensated for his expertise, even before any performance bonuses kick in – a strong likelihood for a man with such outstanding conditioning skills.
Bruss is a straight-talking character, constantly mixing gravelly and jovial exchanges. Ideally, he will do really well in the desert, then return to South Africa to pass on his accumulated wisdom. Up-and-coming horseman can only benefit – high echelon trainer Brett Crawford is one of those lucky guys to have learnt his craft under Bruss, as is Robert Fayd’Herbe who now so capably assists with running the powerful Mike Bass Racing stable.
Married to Sally Jourdaan, stud manager at Lammerskraal, Bruss will soon leave to focus on his new training job and endure the separation, “Hopefully, we will get to meet up every couple of months, perhaps in Dubai…” And, if he can somehow again conjure up remarkable Festival performances for the Saudi Prince’s runners, it will give the gregarious Bruss extra cause to celebrate in that city.