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David Nieuwenhuizen: Star of the Week

DAVID NIEUWENHUIZEN (48) was successful in the advertising industry as a graphic designer, but the love and attraction to horseracing couldn’t keep him away. Determined to make it in the ‘sport of kings’, he joined James Maree’s workrider’s programme and was taught the basics from Maree and the late Gerald Turner. At around this time he became a stable employee for trainer Ernest Anderson and after gaining plenty of experience, in 2004, David made the bold decision to take out his trainer’s licence. He began with just 4 horses at his then, Vaal base, but has attracted some prominent owners since and now has 21 horses in his Turffontein yard. His star filly, Virgo’s Babe has firmly entrenched the Nieuwenhuizen name into racing after her Grade 2 Nursery success on Champion’s Day and David expects plenty more from the daughter of Malhub during her three-year old campaign. WINNING FORM, and all its followers, will be watching the Nieuwenhuizen yard’s progress with keen interest.  

What is your name?
David James Nieuwenhuizen.

What is your star sign and birthdate?
I am a Scorpio, born on 22nd November 1964.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Born in Pretoria. For the first 5 years I grew up in the Karoo in the town of Noupoort with my father, mother and brother. After my father passed away, when I was 5 years of age, we moved to Johannesburg Kensington, to live with my grandparents.

Where do you live?
I live in Bedfordview.

Tell us about your family?
Married to Heather.  We have 2 children, stepdaughter Nicole who assists me and our daughter Tarryn (23). All of whom love the horses and racing.

Do you have a ‘nickname’?
No nickname. At high school ‘short sh1t’, would not take any or full of it.

Favourite food?
I would say a good English Sunday lunch. Roast lamb and potatoes and to end off, fruit salad and ice-cream.

Favourite drink?
Nothing beats a cold Coca-Cola.

Favourite sport?
Road running. I used to do a lot of distance running, marathons and Comrades. I have put many of the training models into the training of my horses. This gets them fit, off a good base, accompanied with speed work.

Favourite soccer team?
In the World Cup I would always support Holland, but they haven’t set the field alight since the seventies. Sometimes, but seldom, watch an English Premiership game, mostly enjoy Man U and Man City.

Favourite holiday destination?
Haven’t been on holiday, no kidding, since taking out my licence. Prior to that would enjoy Cape Town.

Favourite music?
I am an 80’s fan.. Bowie, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the Beatles.

Favourite book?
Yeah right, don’t get to read too much. Too much DSTV to watch. Did like William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens once.

What are you reading at the moment?
The World Wide Web, it comes with pictures.

What is the characteristic you like most about yourself?
My forgetfulness, as every day is full of new surprises.

Where did you go to school?
I started at Hillcrest Primary and finished at Jeppe Boys High in Johannesburg.

What tertiary qualification did you achieve?
Graphic Design Diploma.

Were any of your family involved, or interested, in horse racing?
My wife is related to Brian Wiid. My great uncle (family name Houghton) rode as a jockey way back when, but my grandparents did not encourage me to get involved and told me he had a really hard time, in his day, to earn a living.

What did you do before you came into the racing game?
Studied Graphic Design out of school then went to the army doing national service, in the unit College of Educational Technology, Graphics Department (I think every school leaver should do national service, to get to know themselves and develop direction for their future). Then out into the great world of advertising as an illustrator, graphic designer and artist. Advertising is interesting and stimulating but racing is my dream and my love.

When did you first start taking an interest in horses and more especially horseracing?
This started way back. Being the smallest in my standards at school drew me towards horseracing and I had been told I should be a jockey. I suppose this triggered me to take note of the horseracing industry. Missed the intake when you had to be going into std. 7 and 13-14 years of age. I always attended racing. At the age of 16 I had the opportunity to go to Winks Green in Natal and this stimulated my interest even more.

How did it come about that you joined James Maree in his workriders programme?
A dream to ride a racehorse, I joined James Maree for the first workriders intake. When I approached him, and The National Horse Racing Trust, they allowed me to participate.

Who were the workriders you were involved with then and did you become really friendly with any of them?
Tom Lukhele. I learnt to ride with him when breaking in the 2 year olds for the Breeze-up Sales at Germiston. Like Charlie Ndlovu, he came to me to workride in 2010 and has become a very accomplished rider. Sam Mosia, we go way back. Serino Moodley rides for me now.

What were the main lessons you learnt from James?
The correct seat on a horse and techniques of control over the horse which I convey to my workriders and grooms.

What was your most exciting or most lasting memory you have of your time with James?
Learning to ride. Being  taught by Gerald Turner and then James and his team and then riding in my first race.

What did you have to do to finally find a trainer to take you into his stable?
At this time, when going to James, I had been with trainer Ernest Anderson for more than a year and he signed me up as a stable employee. This gave me the break I was looking for. He had a small string as an owner/trainer of about 12 horses and did well with them.

Who were the trainers you worked for before deciding to take out your licence?
Jan Breedt was my mentor for a good few years. He came from a horse breeding-farming background, (Jan’s father bred Ever Fair), Jan has a very good eye for picking 2 year olds and developing them from early into good horses. It showed in his stats of 21 two year old winners in a season, I certainly learnt how to prepare the young horses from him, with his methods and science of training. He had the likes of Star Award, Renegade, Kokkewiet, Settler City, Silver Moon, Waves Of Argosy, Bunker Hill, and many others. He also taught me how to prepare his newly installed double washed silica track which was top class at the time and this showed with his results. Jan’s teachings and experience were invaluable; this made it enjoyable and far easier to train winners. I also worked for Lance Wiid as a workrider and had a short period with Koos Rossouw.

In which year did you take out your trainers licence and how many horses did you start with?
In November 2004 I started with 4 horses. 3 leased yearlings, by Jack and out of nothing at all. Two of them won.

Where were your stables when you started training?
Could not get boxes in Johannesburg so was told to take up stables at the Vaal racecourse. This was a mistake to go to the Vaal with only 4 horses as I lived in Sunnyridge, Germiston, a long way away.

How difficult was it for you to decide to go on your own as you started with very few horses and no real experience of running a yard on your own?  
I learnt an enormous amount from Jan Breedt who gave me every bit of room for growth to become a good assistant, and advocated for me to ask for my trainers licence. We are still in contact and good friends. So when I decided to take out my trainers licence, I took it that I had the support of quite a few owners who said they would be supporting me. The support never came through. I must admit it was tough training then, with stock like this, compared to when I was with Jan. I managed to keep going… and without any complaints from the family knowing this is my dream. Still at the Vaal things looked up for a period. I got 4 new horses and 2 new owners into the stable and I had found a really good 2 year old filly, I told the owner ‘she is the best filly you are likely to own’. I prepared her and just two weeks before being nominated the owner and horse moved onto a big trainer in another centre. Back to square one. But lesson learnt. She did go onto getting black type and is his best.

Can you remember your first runner and winner?
Nombulelo was my first winner. Owned by myself she cost R5 000 at a HIT sale. It was on the 7 September 2005 over 2400m and ridden by Kevin Derere at 5/1. What a load off my shoulders to get my first winner!

How many horses do you currently have in the yard right now?
12 racing for me this last month. 2 more horses came in this week, then I got 4 off the recent sales, 2 older retired: one six year old lead horse for the two year olds; 1 retired mare for stud and 1 on the rehab list. In total right now I have 21.

Tell us about some of the better horses you have in the yard?
3yo Crown Mine looks promising, 3yo Virgo’s Babe never got a decent race in the R1 million 2yo race on July Day, 3yo Stiffler is a serious horse who is on the mend after a setback. He ran second to Forest Indigo the Golden Horseshoe winner. 3yo Toast Of The Town-a scopey filly looking to get her into the Ready To Run. I had a fairly good season with the 2yo’s this last season. Then Billie Jo. When the penny drops she will realize she is a nice staying filly. These are horses with exposed form for the future. I have 4 new 2yo’s in the yard including Virgo’s brother, so let’s see.

Tell us about the team that assists you in your stable?
Nicole Radford is my assistant in the stable. She does a sterling job and understands the workings of the stable thoroughly. Heather does the accounts. Mofakeng is my head-groom and 4 workriders who have gone through the workriders course. I guide all the track-work.

One of your better horses in your yard must be VIRGO’S BABE. Tell us how you acquired her and tell us about her owners?
Partners David and Meryl Foster and Terrence Pandaram acquired her from Manny Testas’ Midlands Thoroughbreds Stud for the ‘princely’ sum of R10 000. This after she was one of 3 passed through the 2012 KZN Sun Coast Yearling Sales ring unsold. She was picked by Dave out of the 3 he looked at, with a bit of direction from Lenny Taylor. Virgo came in unnamed to me from this sale, Nicole had been friends with them on FB, BBM etc… and they promised to bring us a horse. The partnership had not had the best of luck with their horses previously, but had a win from the filly Bonnet Piece who went to stud September last year. Virgo’s Babe was prepared early and the rest as we say is history. What a girl! The owners had some offers for her but declined these, as they say-don’t sell your luck. I think she will be a top class 3 year old.

What are your plans for her?
To win graded races. She has more wins in her, of that I have no doubt. I will bring her back out of winter and start to campaign in the Highveld, The Starling Stakes, The Gardenia Handicap, either the Ipi Tombe Challenge or Fillies Mile or Magnolia Handicap and maybe onto the Cape.

Virgo’s Babe

Do you have a stable jockey or who are the jockeys who give you the most help?
I have no stable jockey. I use ‘BLING’ S’manga who has ridden very well for me. It’s great when I can get Piere, Gavin, Karl, MJ, Marthinus, Anton and other ‘old timers’ to throw a leg over my horses.

How highly do you value the input jockeys give you about your horses work or how they go in races?  
Value the top jocks highly. Their experience and assessment is invaluable. Often jocks like Piere can pick up a horse’s problems and pinpoint them early. Would help to get a top boy on one or two of my below average horses just for the improvement and to give the horse confidence. Just for a laugh, I have had a jockey get off and say dump it! or ‘won’t win a workriders in Ngong,’ within the next 2 starts the horse wins. I do believe there are some horses that only run for certain jockeys.

Name some of the up and coming apprentices who you think will hold their own against some of South Africa’s best?
Apprentices claim weight for good reason so don’t expect and ask them to be a Piere Strydom, that’s too much, but the weight claim does help. I try to ask them to run from the front to give the horse and rider every chance. Juglall has proven to be a very accomplished rider and I know a few more that will come through with the right chances given. I do not know all the appies, only the Jo’burg youngsters. I believe they are all confident with Gary Waterston’s guidance.

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?
Most of the horses have come to me as horses in training with problems or delivering below par results, elsewhere. I have selected useful cheaper horses that have done well. I believe I have a good eye and it’s mostly about getting the opportunity to purchase those that have been chosen.

Tell us about your owners and how good is your buying power?
Alesh Naidoo is a serious owner and is again in the stable. He chooses his own horses and has many trainers. He has again given me a few to train and we had a good successful strike-rate, previously. Our stable hopes to continue this good relationship and his last runner for me was a winner. I have owners like Simon Jeffrey who invests on a smaller scale but may only buy one or two off the sales each year, which I appreciate. I have also purchased a few horses recently off the sales and am putting together small partnerships to make it more cost effective and give the owners more of a spread and more chance of having fun and a higher percentage of having wins. This has also drawn in new owners. My long-time patron is Ashnee Devachander and has supported me since February 2009 when I started training at Turffontein with a few horses in training. I don’t complain about the great buying power some stables have, all I can do is to compete against them with what I have and with my head held high. If I am approached, yes I do have some stables open.

There is huge competition amongst trainers for horses and owners. What can you offer to prospective owners to attract them?
Truth, honesty and good value for money.

What would you say would be the biggest advantage for an owner to be in your stable?
You get a good competitive caring team. Your horse is well looked after and then placed in races to be the most competitive.

One of the big drawbacks to owning horses is the big cost involved. Have you found any way to keep the costs down?
There are no mark-ups and whatever money comes in goes back into the stable. I don’t draw from the stable. I do believe that my fees are very reasonable.

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?
I make use of traditional methods of taking care of the racehorse with the eye and hands-on approach. This can, and will, take them to their full potential. Each horse gets treated as an individual in my yard. I take great care in trying to keep a horse sound by looking, and judging at how far each horse can be pushed and using the tracks correctly for that horse. I have found my running has given me a good grounding with respect to this. We take horses for long walks. This is, in my opinion, better than walkers as this lets the horse relax more and it’s an escape from been confined in the stable area too long. If a horse is injured they rest, and recover, with good care. I would like a swimming pool or Hydro-therapy unit. I have nebulizers and APS machines and use heart rate monitors.

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?
Yes. To ensure our horses can compete on the same playing fields, we use the same vets, physios, equine dentists and farriers as the big stables. They bring with them up to date science. Athletics has taught me what you take out you must replace, so it’s imperative to supplement. The horse feed suppliers’ science is in good stead, this has made life easier to feed but still requires supplementing which we do.

It is very obvious that a trainer must keep himself in the public’s eye. Do you have a website or anyone doing PR for you to attract new owners to your yard?  
We like to keep in touch by utilizing Facebook as this is interactive and good fun. We are on, of course, a good horse get stables noticed through write-ups and articles that are published. Virgo’s Babe has helped in this regard by winning the Nursery and getting the RA Feature Season Award and RA Success Story Award and by word of mouth. I would like to get a sponsor.  This would also help to direct more prospective owners to the stable. The stable is developing with some nice horses and colourful owners which is making us more visible.

Describe a typical day in the life of David Niewenhuizen?
Up at 05h00 every morning and start our training on the track from 07h00 with 3 strings. Checking and grooming the horses after each string. Between this we do nominations and declarations until we finish on the tracks at about 10h15. We feed up and clean up. Farrier comes twice a week. I would generally go and do some business in advertising or if racing, Nicole or I go to the races. Nicole and Heather will continue to do administration and check the horses are watered at 12h00 and are all well. From 2pm work recommences for afternoon shift.  Horses will be walked and put in the paddock and then groomed. Horses are fed late afternoon. I will check over the horses after 6pm. The boxes have their final clean out and watered. We leave about 7pm – 7:30pm.

How have your views on being a trainer changed as you settle into your career?
Yes, with more experience and knowledge I have more enthusiasm to compete at the highest level.

Which is the biggest or most valuable race you have won to date?
Grade 2 SA Fillies Nursery. An awesome race to win as you have a racing career ahead with the horse. 2nd Ruffian Stakes, 1st in Allez France Handicap.

From what you have observed since you started training, do you think racing is ‘straight’?
I like to believe we play by the same rule book. I was taught by my peers to do things the right way. I stick to that.

What does the future hold for you in the racing game?
To develop my stable to be as competitive and as successful as possible with whatever hand I have been dealt. Would like to see my daughters  develop in the game of racing and also to train.

What are your ambitions for yourself in the racing game?  
To be as successful as possible every day and to win as many races and trophies as possible. I would like to have the opportunity to race a good horse overseas and to be remembered as a decent trainer.

The saying is “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman”. Does this apply to David Nieuwenhuizen?
Think you should delete this question, I have already had to get rid of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I have my wife and 2 daughters as my foundation and cornerstones.

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Other Hollywood Stars of the Week:

John Vos
Cliffie Miller
Gavin van Zyl


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