Johan Janse van Vuuren: Star of the Week

31 year old JOHAN JANSE VAN VUUREN is one of the leading lights amongst the younger up and coming trainers. He readily admits that he considers himself extremely fortunate to have been able to work as assistant trainer to great horseman Geoff Woodruff for 13 years. In that time he worked with top horses such as Jet Master and El Picha as well as his personal favourites Fantastic Horse, Ice Cube and Yard Arm. Johan took the bold decision to train in his own capacity just under a year ago and has already won 8 of the 38 races his runners have competed in, thereby giving him a winning strike rate of just over 20%. Right now the ‘star’ in his stable is the filly WINTER STAR who he feels could make her presence felt during the forthcoming Gauteng summer season, with her main aim being the Ready To Run Cup in November.  It is exciting times for Johan as he embarks on his first full season as a trainer. He currently has 50 horses in training at his Vaal base and WINNING FORM, and all its readers, will be following his career with great interest.

What is your name?
Johan Janse van Vuuren.

What is your star sign and birthdate?
My birthdate is 2 January 1982 which makes me a Capricorn and believe me I am a Capricorn.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in a little town, Vereeniging, which is about 30 minutes outside Johannesburg. I grew up on a farm which has been owned by my family for many years.

Where do you live?
I currently live in Vanderbijlpark which is only a 10 minute drive from the Vaal racecourse.

Tell us about your family?
My dad, Johan, and my mom, Daleen, live on a farm just outside Meyerton. They have been married for 32 years. My folks are self-employed. My dad owns a steel construction company called J J Staalwerke. I have a younger sister (28) and a brother (22) who are both Capricorns. My sister teaches at my old high school and my brother is in business with my father.

Do you have a ‘nickname’?
I do have a nickname amongst the grooms. I don’t know how to pronounce it but it means tall boy with a loud mouth (because I hate making a noise).

Favourite food?
My favourite food is food. I am not picky and I have a good appetite.

Favourite drink?
I don’t drink fizzy drinks. I drink mostly water and I absolutely love red wine.

Favourite sport?
I have always been a very sporty person. I played all kinds of sport from a very young age. I still play a bit of action cricket and I love mountain biking.

Favourite soccer team?
I support Arsenal-we are desperately in need of a striker.

Favourite holiday destination?
I would say Mauritius. I have been there twice and I must say that they were the two best holidays of my life.

Who is your favourite author?
I am not really a big reader but I must say I enjoyed Lance Armstrong’s books. I enjoy autobiographies from sports personalities.

Which characteristic about yourself do you like the most?
I am a very honest person which is something I really like about myself. I try to associate with honest people.

Is there anything the public don’t know about Johan Janse van Vuuren that they would be interested to know?
I am a person who enjoys routine. I hate being out of routine and being disorganized.

Where did you go to school?
I went to school at a little Afrikaans primary school called Japie Greyling and finished school at Dr Malan High School in Meyerton.

When did you first start taking an interest in horses and more especially horseracing?
I basically made up my mind to get into racing before I left school. I started working in a racing yard only a couple of days after completing high school. My family have been involved in racing for many years.

Who were the first trainers who took you under their wing?
I was with the late Mike Riley for a short while as my uncle was an owner there at the time.

How did you become involved with trainer Geoff Woodruff?
I was an assistant to Mr. Woodruff for 13 years. I learnt most of what I know from him. He is an unbelievable horseman and I think I was very lucky to have been in his care for so many years. He was always very willing to teach us and never held back when we needed anything.

If you had to name a horse from that period which you will always remember?
I was very fortunate to have worked with many great horses-more than 30 individual Grade 1 winners. Amongst them were the mighty Jet Master and also El Picha who were the joint horses of the year one season. Other great horses were Argonaut, Cataloochee, Elusive Fort and Ravishing. All of them have become stallions since their careers ended. My all-time favourites were Fantastic Horse, Ice Cube and Yard Arm.

Your job as assistant to Woodruff could be considered a ‘plum’ job. How difficult was it for you to decide to apply for your own licence?
It wasn’t really hard to decide to take out my licence. I had always wanted to train for myself. The hard part was to get the right clients to back me when I started. I was hugely grateful to Laurence Wernars and Harry Wilson who put their money where their mouths are. I was extremely lucky starting with the stock they sent me.

When did you take out your trainers licence and how many horses did you start with?
I took out my licence just under a year ago. Initially, I only had 5 older horses in the string but then Laurence and Harry allocated some yearlings to me which came in late last year.

Where are your stables based and horses many how do you currently train?
My yard is based at the Vaal and I currently have close to 50 horses in training.

Tell us about  the team that assists you at the stables?
At the moment I have 18 grooms and my very good friend Monique Mansour helping me. Monique is a real horse lover and does an exceptional job, especially with the babies.

Tell us about your first winner? 
My first winner was a bit unexpected. I bought a Stronghold filly, Casha, out of a Coastal mare, at the Ready To Run sale last year. I thought she would need a mile,  and I still think so. Owner Jaap VD Vendel asked me to give her a run to see if she was any good. On 7 May 2013 I decided to run her in a 1000m race, for experience, and she ended winning by a short head at odds of 50/1.

WINTER STAR appears to be a filly with plenty of potential. How did you acquire her and tell us about her owners?
Winter Star is a really talented filly. I purchased her at the Ready To Run sale last year. It was not hard to pick her as she has the most unbelievable action plus my owner, Vicky Veeramootoo, was looking for a Solskjaer filly. Vicky fell in love with the Solskjaer’s after he purchased a Solskjaer gelding, Ice Axe, for Mauritius and it ended being the horse of the year there. I recently went to meet Vicky and his gorgeous family in Mauritius. He is the most unbelievably kind and honest human being anyone could ever meet. He loves racing and is not yet 30 years old.

What are your plans for her in the future?
My short term plans for Winter Star are that she will run in a plated race sometime next month (MR 101, can’t go handicap route). After that I will aim her at the Ready To Run Cup in November.

Winter Star

The Emerald Cup is around the corner. Will you have any horses that are potential runners in that race?
I don’t have any horses for the Emerald Cup as most of my string are young horses. I am looking forward to the day as it is a fantastic race day and I always have tons of fun on the day. I will, however, have a runner or two in the other races on the card.

Name some of the better horses the punters can follow in the near future?
Of all my raced horses WINTER STAR is probably the best in my string. However, as I have said before, I have a very young string with some very talented young horses.

You and jockey Donavan Mansour have done very well together. Will he be your stable jockey when he returns from Mauritius?
I have always worked very well with Donavan Mansour. We understand each other and do things the same way. Donavan will ride most of my horses when he returns to riding next month.

Apart from Donavan who are the jockeys who give you the most help?
Marco van Rensburg and Chad Little give me a hand now and then. They are my very close friends. Wesley Marwing and Hennie Greyling are up and coming young riders and they have been to me a couple of mornings to help out.

How highly do you value the input jockeys give you about how your horses work or how they feel in races?
I feel a jockey’s input is vital at work. It would be hard to train a successful string without it. That is the main reason I am fond of Mansour as he gives great feedback.

Obviously it is very important to keep new horses coming into the yard. Do you have help in selecting horses, either young or old, to buy, or do you do it on your own?
I pick most of my horses myself. I learnt a great deal from Geoff Woodruff when looking at horses with him. He has an exceptional eye for a horse and has picked many Grade 1 winners himself.

Who are your main patrons?
My main patrons are Laurence Wernars, Harry Wilson and Vicky Veeramootoo. They own more than 40 horses in my yard.

There is huge competition amongst trainers for horses and owners. What can you offer to prospective owners to attract them?
We pride ourselves on training happy horses. For a horse to be happy it must have the best of everything (feed, bedding etc), and TLC which they get a lot of.

What would you say would be the biggest advantage for an owner to be in your stable?
The biggest advantage for an owner is obviously the care we give to our horses. We offer the very best care possible. Without horses there would be no racing.

One of the big drawbacks to owning horses is the cost involved. Have you found any way to keep the costs down?
We try to keep the costs down by buying the stable essentials in bulk. We do a lot of essential work like bandaging etc to keep veterinary costs down.

Many trainers now have treadmills, hot walkers, swimming pools and the rest to give their horses every opportunity to reach their potential. Have you managed to acquire any of these ‘helps’ as yet?
We are in the process of getting a hot walker which I feel is essential to any yard. People can follow us on Facebook Janse van Vuuren and on Twitter @Jansevanvuuren. There will be a website to follow.

Science is playing a bigger and bigger part in training. How have you managed to keep up with all the latest that goes into training and keeping horses better and better?
My views on training have not changed much over the years. I love this sport more now than I ever have.

You have not had long to build your racing record but how many winners have you had to date?
I have had 8 winners from 38 runners which gives us a winning percentage of over 20% to runners. I am very picky as to where and when I run my horses.

Which is the biggest or most valuable race you have won to date?
Most of my wins have been in maiden races. Newton Power won a R 200 000 race on KZN Breeders Day for us at Clairwood Park a couple of weeks ago.

What does the future hold for you in the racing game?
I really don’t know what the future holds. We are out there trying to win as many races as possible.

What are your ambitions for yourself in the racing game?
Obviously every trainer wants to win Grade 1 races and become champion trainer. At the moment that is a dream.

The saying is “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman”. Does this apply to Johan Janse van Vuuren?
No, but that is something for the future.

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Other Hollywood Stars of the Week:

Leon Erasmus
David Nieuwenhuizen
John Vos
Cliffie Miller
Gavin van Zyl


Racing Personalities:

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