Rubber bullets were fired by police at demonstrating stable staff during Johannesburg’s biggest race day of the year Nov. 30.
The grooms used the occasion to stage a protest for better wages, and it soon turned ugly. Police were called in, and once bullets were fired, the protesters quickly dispersed, but the first race had to be delayed two hours.
The protest served as a stark reminder that dissatisfaction resulting in a grooms’ strike in June last year has not been sorted out to the satisfaction of Johannesburg-based stable staff.
On that occasion Mike de Kock spoke of being confronted by “300 weapon-wielding, threatening grooms” and added: “It has left me questioning my own loyalty to South African racing.”
He has since decided to open a satellite yard in Australia that will be operated by his son and assistant, Matthew.
De Kock ran five in the Gauteng Chris Gerber Summer Cup (G1), including 2-1 favorite Soqrat, in a bid to win the race for the 10th time.
However, he was thwarted by the enterprise of apprentice jockey Denis Schwarz, who sent 28-1 shot Zillzaal to the lead and kept enough in reserve to hold off the strong challenge of Anton Marcus on Soqrat in the Hamdan Al Maktoum colors.
“I took him down early, and it all worked in his favor,” Schwarz said. “I felt if you have a ticket, you have a chance, and there wasn’t much pace on. But big thanks to (trainer) Sean Tarry for allowing me to go forward.”
The winner is a son of Arlington Million (G1T) winner Silvano and is the third consecutive Summer Cup winner for four-time champion Tarry.
“It was a fantastic ride from Denis, but I thought the only way to beat the de Kock horses was to make them carry their weight,” Tarry said.
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