Ken Nicol: With one of the largest and most powerful strings in the country to contend with, the nationwide shutdown has posed special challenges for the Justin Snaith outfit, divided over two provinces as they are.
Never short of a word or two, the ebullient Snaith was happy to talk about the situation from Cape Town, where he is based during the lockdown in the company of his wife and children.
While of course making the trip to his Philippi training centre every morning.
“When the lockdown came I returned to Cape Town to be with my family, but I send my assistant in Durban a work program every day, and Anton Marcus has been unbelievable riding work three times a week, which is obviously a big plus.
“In KZN the grooms all live on the premises in a hostel, which is ideal in these circumstances. They are all being well fed and looked after by Gold Circle.
“Today (Thursday) we galloped three horses at Summerveld for the first time since the restrictions came in. Wild Coast and Captain Tatters together, and Sovereign Secret on her own. They all went well.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about the program. The NRB keep posting stuff, but we need the powers that be to sit down with government and get approval. Until then it’s all pie in the sky.
“I’m worried that we will lose the prep races for the big ones, as you don’t want the ‘wrong’ horse winning our showpiece races. But all trainers are in the same boat – big or small.”
“Our Cape Town staff have their own mainly RDP housing which we made sure they received when they became available. We are ultra cautious, with sprayers, foggers and hand sanitizers everywhere, and of course we all have masks and gloves.
“They all have permission to come to work, as Philippi is classed as a farming area and an essential service.
“Under the circumstances we have managed well. Our workriders and other staff have been riding all the work in the absence of jockeys, and have done a phenomenal job.
“We are at about 70% fitness levels, but when we do return, owners will want to recoup losses. I’m frankly more concerned about the fitness levels of the jockeys who are not riding work” he says unjokingly.
“I have truckloads of juveniles to come out in Cape Town, and lots of my horses have enjoyed the break. I can’t wait to return.”
And he has a friendly warning for his fellow conditioners.
“If you think times are tough now just wait until we start racing again” he says with a laugh.
“My owners have been fantastic. All have been prepared to help, and have shown a lot of concern. One client even offered to pay two months in advance if it would help.
“That wasn’t necessary of course, but it was a lovely gesture.”
Racing’s road ahead
“Slowly the right people are being put in the right positions to turn this industry around. I’m very happy to see new faces in the right places, and see light at the end of the tunnel. We will figure it out.
“There is so much effort going on behind the scenes to revive SA racing, and there are changes coming. Things may have to get worse before they get better, but racing will come out stronger in the long run” concludes the natural optimist.