Race day commemorates Buddy Maroun

The race meeting at Turffontein on Saturday, February 21 is dedicated to the memory of Buddy Maroun, the Highveld racehorse trainer who passed away a year ago.

Buddy’s untimely death shocked South African racing as he was a hugely respected and admired exponent of his craft, and in his prime at 51.

In the year since his passing, he has come to be universally acknowledged as one of the modern legends of the game. He was unquestionably one of the greatest trainers of sprinters this country has seen.

Golden Loom, pictured here with Buddy, was the shining star in his galaxy of racetrack speedsters, but the trainer also demonstrated his all-round ability by preparing Highland Night for victory in the 3200m Gold Cup.

Keith Robert Maroun was born in Johannesburg on February 17 1957, the second of Robert and Lillian Maroun’s six children. He died, on his birthday, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2008.

He got the nickname “Buddy” after being knocked down by a car as a child and having his grandmother pray to the Lebanese Christian Saint Anthony of Padua for his recovery. “Padua” became “Buddy”.

It was also as a boy that he developed a love of horses – unsurprising with his father Robert being a successful trainer. Buddy helped his dad in the yard from a young age, eventually becoming his assistant. He became a very good work rider, key to his later achievements as a trainer.

Buddy was granted his own training licence in the mid-1980s, operating from Randjesfontein Training Centre at Midrand. Later his brother Anthony acquired a farm at Putfontein, near Benoni, and Buddy moved there.

While Anthony built up the training centre – erecting stables, sinking boreholes and planting eragrostis feed grass – Buddy went to work on the horses and training tracks. He brought in thousands of cubic metres of Vaal River sand – and, importantly, a 400m stretch of silicon sand for sprint work. Every day he insisted on driving the tractor to harrow and till the running surface.

Such attention to detail was a Buddy Maroun trademark. He rode work on all his string, often exercising more than 40 horses a morning. He qualified as a farrier and shod all his runners; and he drove the floats carrying his horses to and from race meetings.

Buddy’s horses ran frequently – week in and week out, clearly with little ill effect, but exciting much public comment and debate. This training technique was learnt from father Robert, who believed competition exercise could be more beneficial to horses’ form and soundness than conventional reliance on lengthy training gallops.

The proof of the pudding was in the eating. One of Buddy’s best horses was Follow The Falcon, who thrived for seven seasons and, amazingly, won the Group 1 FNB 1600 in his 110th start.

“He never worked his horses hard, although he raced some of them often,” explains Robert. “Also, his success came from his work riding. He had a very special affinity with horses. He understood them and they understood him; they obeyed him.”

Brother Anthony – a well-known owner with horses trained by another sibling, Bradley – mentions that Buddy himself was a sprinter of note in school athletics. “He studied human sprint training techniques, and applied what worked for him to the horses,” says Anthony.

The undisputed stable champion was the gelding Golden Loom – nicknamed “Goofy” for being rather laid back.

The son of Golden Thatch won 22 races and was placed 37 times in 78 starts over a phenomenal nine racing seasons, delivering R2.85-million in stakes to owners Raymond and Budwa Abrosie. He won 16 black-type contests, including three Group 1s: the Computaform Sprint at Turffontein in 1997 and 1998, and the Golden Spur at Scottsville in 2000.

Other top horses included Fov’s Favourite, with 14 wins from 65 starts, including the Computaform Sprint and Mondi Sprint; and All Will Be Well, with 17 wins in 100 runs, including the Mercury Sprint.

Al Nitak carried Lisa Prestwood to history as the first female jockey to ride a South African Group 1 winner; while Geordoba and Fanyana were among many other notables.

For more than a decade it was common to find Maroun runners filling two or more placings in top division sprints.

The jockeys most associated with this success were Sherman Brown and Anton Marcus, while leading patrons included Andre Macdonald, John Finlayson, Bill Strydom, Joe van Streepen and family, Bob van Vuuren, Savvas Englesakis, Raymond and Budwa Abrosie, Shalito Nassif and Mary Liley.

These owners were fiercely loyal to their trainer, and he reciprocated. Relationships sometimes extended to him simply trusting people to pay him the correct amount owed. More than one owner had to beg Buddy to provide a statement.

A group of Buddy’s owners accompanied him on a horse-buying trip to Argentina early last year. While riding potential purchases, he scratched his upper leg on a saddle and the wound became infected. As the party was due to return home within days, he did not seek immediate medical treatment. When Buddy’s condition rapidly deteriorated, his friends rushed him to hospital where septicemia was diagnosed.

Buddy’s partner Claudia and sister Penny urgently flew to Argentina, but he died before they arrived.

He left his wife Pamela and daughter Leolita, 26; and Claudia and their son Aiden, 4.

Buddy was a quiet, reserved man, who shunned the gossip and politics of racing. “He couldn’t be bothered with argumentative people,” says brother Anthony, “he just wanted to be with his horses. He lived for them, 24 hours a day.

“He didn’t like going out at all; preferred to stay on the farm. He chose his friends carefully and they were very staunch,” says Anthony.

Those friends, and all of racing, miss the special talent that was Buddy Maroun. We salute his memory.

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