The champion no one wanted

2014-12-15 06:00

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Louis The King’s success story almost never happened. Put on the KZN yearling sale at the Suncoast Casino in the week of the 2011 Vodacom Durban July, the colt was shunned by horse buyers – he didn’t attract a single bid.

Meanwhile, Johannesburg trainer Geoff Woodruff arrived at Suncoast to give a few tickets for the July to a friend. As he got out of his car and walked across the car park, he met Louis’ dejected breeder, Phillip Kahan, leaving the sale.

“Tell me,” said Kahan, pointing to Louis’ photo in the sales catalogue, “what’s wrong with this horse?”

Woodruff looked, saw that the colt’s father had been a very good racehorse and asked: “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” said Kahan, “I love him.”

A canny Woodruff asked what Kahan wanted for the horse and was surprised to find it was a bargain basement price of R60?000.

“An average sale price is R250?000 to R300?000. Even if Louis was going for R100?000, I wouldn’t have bought him, but R60?000?” says Woodruff.

So he shook hands on the deal in the car park for a horse he hadn’t even laid eyes on.

“I trusted Phil’s instincts. I’ve know him for a long time and he’s never let me down, so I didn’t have a worry,” says Woodruff (58). But he did take a peek at Louis afterwards and saw “a nice horse – plain, unassuming and modest”.

In fact, there was nothing to suggest Louis was champion material. Woodruff thought he would do what he could for the horse to “amount to something”.

By May 2012, Louis had turned into a “nice little horse, but still nothing to catch the eye”. He had his first race over 1?400m as a three-year-old in November last year and Woodruff was “pleasantly surprised” to see him win. He then entered Louis in a 1?700m race.

“He absolutely bolted. He was full of running. I thought then this horse had something,” says Woodruff.

After two more good races, Woodruff primed Louis for the Sascoc Triple Crown in March this year at Joburg’s Turffontein Racecourse. A Triple Crown comprises three races of varying distances for three-year-olds. Winning all three is considered a racehorse’s greatest accomplishment – only ­Horse Chestnut managed to do this in South Africa in 1999.

The first race was the 1?600m Gauteng Guineas on a rain-soaked track. Louis steamed to a win, leaving the other horses trailing behind. He had a narrow win in the 1?800m SA Classic on March?29 and in the 2?450m SA Derby on April 26, he pulled clear of the frontrunner as they left the other horses straggling behind.

Louis’ win in the Sansui Summer Cup two weeks ago has brought his total earnings to a staggering R6.8?million.

“He has repaid my faith in him many times over,” says the five-time champion trainer. “In fact, he has repaid it 100 times more than the price I agreed to pay for him in that car park.”

Louis the King's wins

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