Champion trainer Puller reflects on racing season past, Newsline

DURBAN – Garth Puller was crowned KZN Champion trainer last weekend and considering he finished five winners clear of the pack his admission that the Covid-19 lockdown had helped him out was testimony to his humility.

Two highlights were the runs of Captain Al gelding Captain Fontane, whom he regards as the best three-year-old in the country, although he will not race here again as he is due to depart for David Ferraris’ yard in Hong Kong in November.

Puller said, “I have ridden a lot of good horses so I know what a good horse is. He was very green first time out and was left in his second race and he is also a big horse with a bad overreach. I told Lyle before his second start not to move him up slowly because he might then feel the overreach and to rather let him go so that he would be full of adrenalin. He did so and that race showed just how good he is.“

“It is not easy to beat older horses as a young three-year-old (and he demolished them in the MR 78 Handicap over 1200m at Hollywoodbets Greyville by 5,40 lengths carrying 59kg off a 90-merit rating in the August of his three-year-old career). David is very excited about this horse. Lyle has ridden in Hong Kong and believes he will clean up there.”

Ormond Ferraris helped select Captain Fontane at the National Yearling Sales and if ever R1,3 million was a bargain then this was it as he has a pedigree brimming with quality. Bred by Cheverly Stud he is by Captain Al out of Grade 3-winning Joshua Dancer mare Spring Lilac, who is a half-sister to the like of champions Bela-Bela and Rabiya and to the dual Grade 2-winning super broodmare Secret Of Victoria, who has produced two Grade 1 winners herself. Furthermore, Captain Fontane is a full-brother to the dual Grade 1 winner Snowdance.

Puller continued, “I was not aiming to win the Championship but we got a tremendous start. We had one or two good horses although none of them were going to stay here. I think lockdown then came at the right time otherwise some of the bigger yards like Dennis Drier would probably have overtaken us. The lockdown happened shortly after Dennis had brought the best of his string back from Cape Town.”

Puller had the most runs in KZN through the season, 372 in total for 44 wins at a strike rate of 11,83%.

Dennis Bosch was second on 39 wins and Gavin van Zyl’s 37 victories made it a trifecta for former jockeys.

Dean Kannemeyer was next best on 36 followed by Drier on 32.

Another memorable moment for Puller was when the yard claimed a cheque of R100,000 for winning the Hollywoodbets Sizzling Summer Challenge for trainers.

Puller said, “We had the numbers and were able to keep our horses happy and sound and running often.”

The yard had about 86 horses, although a lot of them were youngsters.

The riding legend is extremely dedicated, arriving at Summerveld at 03h30 every morning and leaving at 18h30.

He first tends to the yard’s cats and dogs before staff personnel are checked for temperatures as per the Covid-19 regulations.

The horses are then thoroughly checked before first string is prepared, leaving for track at 05h00.

He has three strings through the morning.

Puller said his methods had been influenced to some extent by some of the great trainers he had ridden for like Peter Kannemeyer but he added, “I can flatly say there is no trainer who knows it all and we learn every day. I can learn from a groom about a horse as he could point out something I had never heard of or thought of before. Horse make fools of men.”

He uses all of the tracks at Summerveld and although the poly enables training on wet days, he is careful not to use it too often. He said the poly can become a bit firm when wet and horses’ hooves tend to stick on this surface as opposed to sliding and this can lead to problems in some horses.

Puller uses the best jockeys when he can but is also known as a big supporter of apprentices.

He said, “I like to support hard-working apprentices like Jabu Jacobs and Thabiso Gumede as I have seen so many riders with potential who have lost heart and left the game.”

Puller has modest aims for this season, admitting he did not have a lot of big horses and had plenty of young horses.

He said, “We will take it day by day.”

Puller’s biggest wish at present is that stakes get back to where they were.

He emphasised, “I only survived last season because I won the Hollywoodbets Challenge and sold two horses to Mauritius. It is tough to give buyers confidence when the stakes are so low and at present, I own half of the horses in my yard.”

He is also hoping the pending EU audit will happen soon and open the way for the export protocols to change.

He said, “The current route via Mauritius is way too long and arduous. A good horse I sent over a while ago called Bay Tibbs is only in England now and another one, Brooklyn, died of colic in a paddock in Mauritius.”

Puller’s other bugbear is young horses being punished too soon by handicappers and then not being brought down quickly enough. That is his opinion in this perennial debate.

He also feels fines by the NHA for petty things are too harsh and in these times expenses like colours being registered and renewed could be lessened.

He also feels the requirement to re-label veterinary prescribed medication should happen every three months and not one month.

Otherwise he loves what he does and concluded, “I would never consider doing anything else.”

David Thiselton