SA Horseracing recently took time to chat to enthusiastic owner Kathryn Ralphs about her hopes and plans in the racing industry, CK Racing, watching Shea Shea in Dubai, and how she feels racing can benefit from greater communication with the younger generation.

How is your family involved in racing?

My dad, Lindsay Ralphs, has owned horses for over a decade. My dad was introduced to the world of owning horses by Mr Rosevear, who had a relatively solid string at that stage. Even though he only became a member later on in life, my dad can reminisce about working at the tote on holiday break from Varsity. My dad paved the way to what is the “Ralphs Racing” that i manage today. It’s a consolidation of all the horses we have, from a breeding operation at Klawervlei Stud, to owning shares in stallions (Potala Palace, Wylie Hall, Twice Over and Captain of All.) We also have a solid string that are ‘in training and racing’ and some babies on the farm. “Pinhooking” is a relatively new term for us, but it’s a profitable game, and very exciting.
RALPHS RACING consolidated, has 11x different trainers, our primary trainer being Candice Dawson at CK HORSE RACING. We are involved in some of the “for fun” syndicates, like the “Tractors Syndicate” with Brett Crawford. We have a few with Justin Snaith, Joe Soma, Sean Tarry in partnership with Chris van Niekerk and his son Erich, as well as Dr Jill Warner. We have two horses with Mike and Matt de Kock, Michael and Adam Azzie, one of which is in partnership with Green Street Bloodstock. Johan Janse van Vuuren, Candice Bass Robinson, Vaughan Marshall and Gary Alexander also train for us.
My sister’s name appears all over the Computaform, but she does not enjoy racing, and is unfortunately allergic to teff, so she's not a stable regular. Its more a bond that my dad and I share - its a nice hobby for him to have, and its been even nicer to turn this into my career.
The rest of my family are avid supporters of our racing string. My step-mother and neice come to the races and visit the stables. All of my grandparents watch every race and my aunt has just bought a share in our “woman’s only syndicate”, so we have a ton of family support

How did you get involved?

My very generous dad bought us (my sister and I) a few horses and registered us as owners, my sister (the creative) designed the silks and we got lucky enough to win a few races even though most of our horses were chosen because we liked the name or we liked the look of the horse. A willingness to cuddle us was a big factor and horses that kicked were almost immediately ruled out of our shortlist. All the things that would entice me now, were big ‘No No’s’ for us then. Breeding and conformation has only come onto play over the last handful of years.
I am now an big supporter of TESIO POWER, and have learnt a lot about conformation, walking etc, but we mainly leave the buying to the experts, the bloodstock agents and the trainers. Similarly in racing, we aren't the types of owners that will tell the trainer to run the horse. Patience is key, and you learn that, with experience, you need a lot in this game

Have you always been interested in horses?

I was studying at UJ to become a journalist. I thought i would end up in a sporting field of writing, but couldn't have picked horse racing. I’ve always been a fan. I loved the excitement of a Raceday, and we, as a family would attend the big days, like the Durban July, when we were younger. I had “my moment” with a horse on the Summerveld Training tracks, very early on a wintery morning. I saw my horse, Control Tower work. She was enormous but it looked like she was floating. Her breath was loud and consistent, her flaring nostrils were bellowing icy air, the noise that her feet made when they touched the sand track sounded a lot like a drum. She had stolen my heart, and racing became my obsession. I am of the Pocket Power generation so it wasn't hard to be enthralled. With that, I knew my heart belonged to thoroughbred horse racing

Who, if anyone, has inspired you in racing?

Candice Dawson is a massive inspiration, obviously. I really admire Mike de Kock for everything that he has done for South African racing. I love seeing Tara Laing win races in PE. She gives us a lot of #GirlPower support. Julie Alexander is a hardworking representative of the industry.
If you could have a “Racing Family” The Koster’s and the Klawervlei team would be ours. They have helped up develop a stronger string, they are assisting our breeding and have opened many doors for new partnerships and relationships in this game. I think the one thing that I love about my job is that I continue to learn something new every day. The industry leaders are so gracious in sharing their knowledge with us. I take a lot of inspiration from the #NextGeneration of Racing, the likes Matt de Kock, Tim Woodruff, Tony Peter, Gabi Soma, Adam Azzie etc. From a marketing and management side, Justin Vermaak and Jono Saith inspire me with a lot of newer aged idea

How did you get involved with Candice?

I met Candice 7 years ago when she was training out of Komm Naidoo’s satellite yard in Johannesburg. We hit it off instantly. I moved some of my horses to her then, and I got to spend much more time at a stable, up until then i hadn't really seen what goes into getting a horse to the racetrack let alone getting it to win a race. We floated the idea of combining my management skills and experience with her training ability and education of horses to start a company, but Candice wasn't ready to go -it-alone. I was fortunate enough to visit Candice on her training stint n Mauritius in 2014. That holiday platformed as the business meeting where i finally convinced Candice to write her trainers license in South Africa. She was ready, but it needed to happen fast.

What do you think makes Candice such a good trainer?

Candice is a diehard horse woman. You almost don't want to get cornered with her at a party because her racing brain never turns off. She lives and breathes racing. Oddly enough she doesn't watch any racing besides her own races, so she isn't often intimidated by form because she doesn't follow it strongly enough. She gets her horse as ready for the race as possible, and then she leaves it up to the horse and jockey. She is very good at matching the horse with the correct rider. Her work ethic is unparalleled, and as much as racing stresses her out, she loves it. She over analyzes races she doesn't win, and tries new things with different horses all the time. She will be the first to admit that her horses teach her something new every day too. She has always found it imperative to create a phenomenal team that surrounds her, and she creates leaders, by her own example. She has two second in command grooms, and she treats her staff with a lot of respect. She teaches them along the way, I appreciate that, as do our employees

What is CK Racing and how did it come about?

CK Horse Racing is a company that Candice and I formed in 2015. Candice and I could see that with the right management, a yard could be a profitable business, and a long-term career path for both of us. It was an uphill battle from day one. Candice wanted to train at Randjesfontein. She loved the training facilities and she could raid easily from there. We received more than one offer of boxes at the Vaal to train from, but it just wasn't feasible. There was and still is no space at Randjesfontein, and there is an endless waiting list. Not to take away from any of the #NextGeneration trainers, their knowledge and hard work speaks for itself, but in saying that, it would've been a lot easier if Candice had inherited a yard. She had 16 years of experience in the industry, and got nearly full marks on her Trainer’s License Exam, but with the approval of her license we needed to have a yard that had been approved by the authorities.
We found a beautiful property that is a green-belt away from the tracks. We jumped on it quickly, and it has worked out for us in the long run for us, because we have a lot more space, and paddocks for resting horses, and babies. We had taxi’ed down the runway.
My dad, Lindsay was an crucial part of starting up the business. His business mind and his financial backing were the assets that allowed us to lift off the ground.
With his support, we were starting to be recognized, but as a private trainer, it took us two years to get to this point, but we are now a fully established, public, profitable company, with numerous patrons

How many horses do you have at the moment?
CK HORSE RACING trains 54 horses currently.
Ralphs Racing owns a few more than that, but in different capacities and in numerous partnerships

Do you have a favourite racetrack?

We do dazzle like diamonds at Kimberley’s Flamingo Park! Turffontein is our home course, so of course we love to win there. We have yet to take on Cape Town. I think winning at Kennilworth will feel pretty good, touch wood. My personal best has to be Meydan in Dubai. I got to watch Shea Shea win there for Mike de Kock on World Cup Night, and I've never felt anything like that, watching Christophe Soumillon don a South African Flag around his shoulders, in the winners enclosure, I've never felt more proud or patriotic.

What goals do you have in racing and do you have a particular big race you would like to win?
Our company has various financial goals that we have set. Each quarter we have a meeting with the accounts team and our investors to determine if we are on the right track.
Each horse’s racing career is goal orientated once we have run them and see where they land or where we are in terms of fitness and training. Some older horses are going to be running on Grand Heritage Day at the Vaal, some of the babies are being kept in full training but won’t run until it has rained in Johannesburg - the ground is just too hard at the moment. In and amongst all of Candice’s madness, there is a clear planned out path that she has for each horse. Candice wants a Group 1 as much as we do and we have various incentives to get there.

From a Ralphs Racing perspective, which, in my opinion, has yet to reap the rewards that might be expected from the sport, given the scale of Lindsay Ralphs' investment, but we have reinvested in a well bred string, and have had some growing success, we are looking forward to some graded race wins and black type for the mares. The ultimate goal for my dad, is to own a stallion to stand at Klawervlei.

I would love to win the Durban July.

Do you have a particular favourite horse?

“Like a Boss” is my favorite horse - I named him. He was our first winner for CK HORSE RACING. He is retired now, but he will always be in my heart.
I think you will be able to see a few names hit the track that have my fingerprints all over them. E.G. “How Does It Taste” “I Ain’t Trippin” “G-Rouse” It’s all just in jest

Did you manage to buy many horses at the sale this year and do you have a particular sire you like?

We have bought plenty this year. Candice and my dad did a number at the Farm Sale, those two need to be on a leash! I think they encourage each other. I went a bit nuts at the National 2YO sale, the market was so low that we cleaned up. We got a beautiful Captain Al filly, Adam Azzie said to his dad that because the horses’s name was Easter Bunny, he thought a dad would buy it for his daughter. (And with that she was mine.)
Candice found an Ideal World colt from Wilgerbosdrift and i bought an Ideal World filly from Mauritzfontein. We got a stunning Var called Vardo and i bought a What A Winter Colt for the de Kock’s to train. We bought two horses in partnership with Larry Nestadt, adding him to the CK HORSE RACING Family, and the experienced race goer, Greg Blank also took shares.
We also got two Duke of Marmalade’s that are looking great they are getting backed, and are doing some light lunging.
Candice and I also picked up our first Gimmethegreenlight. Her name is Gimme a Symphony. She’s so precious.

My favourite sire was Jet Master, even though he had a hereditary breathing issue, he threw beautiful progeny. Captain Al was a sad loss. We attended stallion day at Wilgerbosdrift recently. I think Soft Falling Rain is the one to watch. He just looks like a beast. We love the Ideal Worlds, but they take time. Twice Over, so far has proved to be good and is only getting better. Our string is only missing a Master Of My Fate - that is one Candice is desperate to get her hands on.

What would you like to see changed in racing?

With what has transpired recently, this is a bit of a loaded question.
I would like to see the “Old Guard” of Racing assist in handing on the baton to the #NextGeneration of Racing. There are a few committed young adults that are forming a youth league within the racing community. While i cannot go too far in depth, i will say that, in my opinion, a youth league should work with the authorities, not against them. If the authorities want to implement change, aim your changes at the more receptive youth.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks and the younger generation of racing is very eager to implement the necessary changes. We have great ideas, and we have a much faster way of communicating than the more mature members of the industry. Social Media might be a little scary for the people who don't understand it but, its here and we need to use it. It can, if used correctly can be very advantageous.
The other thing I can say is that the Youth League will have a very specific vision. I feel that the Youth League needs to focus on forming fair standards for the people who are already employed by the industry, we need to take care of our own before focusing on bring new members into a flawed system. I think the elitist BS needs to go. I think a lot of people mistake wealth for power. The wealthy don't need the Youth League (or anything like it.)

The #NextGeneration of racing is here, and we are here to stay.

I also think there is a niche in the industry that is lacking.
I believe that jockey's in South Africa need to be managed. Their one and only focus professionally should be, to be, as prepared and as fit as possible, for the race on the day.
Giving no criticism to the teachers and institutions that have prepared the jockeys for their careers, they have done an exceptional job at making them brilliant riders, and the products of the SAJA have had massive amounts of success in South Africa and all over the world. The Jockey Academy does produce talent - at riding, but there is a massive gap in general life skills. I, unlike some of my colleagues do not think that is the worst thing in the world. (I dont want to send them on a life skills course) Let the jockey focus on being the best rider possible and let their managers or agents do everything else that they need done, like booking rides, employ financial services for financial planning, administration, travel plans, drafting feedback emails, negotiating sponsorships, mentoring, marketing, damage control, etc.

I don't believe you need to reinvent the wheel, follow suit on what every other sporting platform has done and encourage the athletes to be "the talent."

Having spent some time with some of the younger jockey's recently, its abundantly clear that the fundamentals are there. This up-and-coming, if not just arrived, group, are polite, grounded, hard working and ambitious. There is a good sense of camaraderie, balanced with a healthy competitiveness. Everything that is required of them is done, the rest is paperwork and I suggest that they outsource that, in the form of a manager.

How would you bring more people back to the course?

I would suggest hosting events (that already have a massive following) at the race courses. There is a food and wine show that sells 25 000 tickets per event. We need to use the inside of a racetrack as the venue to these sold out events. I would also add more security, our courses are not in the best locations.

What advice would you give young people keen to get involved in racing?
My dad has taught me to “never bet with money you cant afford to lose.” Thats a valuable lesson.
I think my advice to a newbie would be this:
Owning a horse almost never makes you money, its not often that they even pay for themselves. This is a hobby, its not an investment. You need to be involved with a yard that suits you. Do your homework. There are hidden costs everywhere, a trainer’s fees is not the extent of all payments. Each yard has a different feel to it. Some yards are very serious and professional, at some yards you will be playing cards and having a golf chipping competition at the end of the day.

Some trainers will take you to the Argonaut Room at Turffontein to wine and dine you, some trainers will sit around Angie and Calvin’s pub at the end of the day at the Vaal, some trainers have their own suites at the course.

You need to know your trainer. You need to be kept up to date with your horse’s progress.
A syndicate of friends is the most affordable and fun way to enter into owning a horse.
My advice, immediately (even if you only have one horse) hire an administration/accounting firm like EQUINE. They will make your life a million times easier.
Have fun along the way. There are unbelievably friendly people in the horse racing community. Take everything with a pinch of salt, and ask questions. More often than not, the experienced want to impart wisdom.



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