From jockeys to racehorse owners, the global horse racing industry is often regarded as a man’s world. It is therefore unsurprising that the list of South Africa’s top racehorse trainers is almost exclusively male. However, one name stands apart from the rest – Candice Robinson, a rose amongst the thorns, sitting in fourth place on the country’s trainer log. Since taking over as Head Trainer at Bass Racing Stables last year, Candice has been steaming ahead of the competition, having already achieved 72 wins from 682 starts. With her sights set firmly on success, Candice is proving that women are every bit as good and, in some ways, perhaps even better than their gentlemanly counterparts.
Candice, who in her debut season as a fully-fledged horse trainer, landed her first Vodacom Durban July Handicap win. Long shot Marinaresco, ridden by jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe, powered to victory in the closing stages of Africa’s premier horse racing event, which drew 55 000 spectators to the Greyville Racecourse and a R2.5 million winner’s cheque. She became the first woman trainer to win this event.
When questioned about why there are so few women in her industry Candice is quick to respond that it’s because of old stereotypes and prejudices. She explains: “In reality there is nothing that makes men more capable trainers than women. What you need to excel in this industry is an ability to understand horses, you’re either a horseman or you’re not.”
She continues: “Every horse is different and their temperaments and type of horse (sprinter or distance) dictate how they should be trained. Some are ready for racing a few months after reaching the stables, others can take a full year to come to hand. Patience and compassion are key and these distinctly female traits go a far way towards training a champion racehorse.”
As the daughter of the legendary Thoroughbred trainer Mike Bass, Candice developed a passion for the animals at a young age. She claims that being able to enjoy horses is essential component of her job and when considering the amount of time spent in their company, one begins to understand why. Working with racehorses is a job that doesn’t stop, they need to be cared for and exercised seven days a week.
Candice adds: “People sometimes forget that a horse is an animal, not a machine. They are unpredictable and there is a frustrating tendency for things to go wrong.”
This includes everything from horses coming up lame on the day of a big race to late night calls should a horse fall ill. Bass Racing Stables currently has 130 horses in Cape Town and Candice manages the large staff contingent, including 60 grooms, who are responsible for their training and care.
However, according to Candice, the most stressful aspect of her job is the responsibility of meeting her clients’ expectations. Racehorse owners put a huge amount of trust in their trainers, from selecting a great horse at auction to preparing it to be a champion on the racetrack.
Thoroughbreds are usually purchased as yearlings (approximately 18 months of age) at auctions such as the National Yearling Sale held by Bloodstock South Africa, the sales arm of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA). The selection and purchase of a racehorse is often entrusted to a trainer and a horse with the right pedigree and physical attributes can command prices that reach into the millions.
“When a client invests in a million-rand horse they expect great things,” explains Candice. “However, predicting whether a young Thoroughbred has the ability to be a champion is no simple task.”
“It’s a bit like looking at a six-year-old child with gangly legs and saying that he’ll grow up to be a great athlete,” adds Mark Bass, Candice’s brother and the Marketing Manager at Bass Racing Stables.
Despite this, Candice definitely has a knack for choosing winners and earlier this year a Thoroughbred trained by her, won the Grade 1 Klawervlei Majorca Stakes run at the J&B Met – a sought-after feather for any trainer’s cap. This, only one year into her tenure as at Bass Racing, proves that Candice is a lady who is doing big things in a man’s world. She joins a growing group of talented women who are challenging outdated industry prejudices including the likes of Michelle Payne who – after becoming the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in its 155 year history – famously said, “those who believe women aren’t strong enough to succeed can get stuffed, because we just beat the world.”
Issued by Dei Gratia