J&B Met: Behind the scenes with a pro horse trainer

The horses that race in Cape Town’s J&B Met are magnificent creatures built for power, speed and victory. But they don’t get like that all on their own. Candice Robinson of Mike Bass Racing, the only female horse trainer for the 2016 J&B Met, shares what it takes to train a horse for an event like this.

Training a horse is a process. You are never just training a horse for one race; although, obviously, a race such as the J&B Met — where the best 16 horses in the country over that distance compete — is one of the big ones… We’ve won the J&B Met five times. It’s not an easy race to win; it’s a very difficult race to win.

Before you can enter a horse in the J&B Met, you have to get to that stage in its career… The horse also needs to be fit and well at the time to run the best race it possibly can on the day. It’s not just about being good enough; there are a lot of factors that go into preparing a horse for a Met.

It’s important to remember that horses, like people, have different abilities. We have horses that run over shorter distances (1 000 metres to 1 200 metres), we have horses that run middle distance (1 400 metres to 1 600 metres) and we’ve got horses that run over more ground (2 000 metres to 3 000 metres). They are all pretty much trained differently; I would train a fast horse differently to a horse that goes 2 500 metres. Same as you would a human being — a sprinter would train differently to a long-distance runner.

Along the way, things do tend to go wrong: horses get injured or sick. It’s never plain sailing! Plus, the horses actually need to be good enough. Although there are certain qualities that you look out for when you are buying a yearling (young horses between one and two years old), you can’t say for certain what they will become. Some can run and others just can’t. Some are athletes and others aren’t. Some horses only ever win a race; some of then never win a race; others will win 10. It all depends on the horse.

There are definitely some trainers who are better than others. I don’t think that you could just take somebody off the street and put them in a training position and say: this is what you need to do. I don’t think that would work; you need to have a feel for a horse.

Not even every person who rides a horse may be able to train a horse either — some people just have a feeling for being able to train a horse well… You need to understand horses, and you need to be able to feel when things are right and when they aren’t. Then, you need to be able to make small tweaks to make them right. It’s very much about feeling!

Training horses is a lot of hard work. It’s not a nine-to-five kind of job. You have to work weekends and you don’t get to go away on holiday for three weeks when you feel burnt out. We work right throughout the year, and it is hard work. You really need a good team behind you, and you need clients who trust you. Without clients, you have no buying power, and without buying power, you don’t have winning horses. You need to build up a reputation so that people with money — and a love of racehorses — are willing to invest in you.

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