Ken Nicol: After a trio of Listed wins at Turffontein last Saturday, extremely capable ex-Zimbabwean trainer Paul Matchett has put a few years in the racing wilderness firmly behind him.
Indeed, his boutique-sized stable of 50 horses has already produced 26 wins for this season so far.
Which is already well beyond his whole season’s total for any of the most recent four campaigns.
And, judging by what we saw at the weekend, there are much bigger things to come.
Born in Zimbabwe 55 years ago, Paul’s family wasn’t directly involved in racing.
“My late father, Eddie Matchett, was a farrier in the police force, and used to drag me to stables at the depot when I was a boy. He knew people like the stipes Malcolm Marsh and Mike Jones, who both ended up coming to South Africa as well.
While still at school, Paul had his first job in racing as a starting stall handler.
“After matriculating in 1980 I worked in a bank as a teller for a year, but quickly realised it wasn’t the life for me. I was then lucky enough to be taken on as an assistant trainer by the legendary Ginger Halfpenny, where I spent five years.
“After that I moved on to Neil Bruss for another five-year stint. I learnt a lot from both men, and in 1990 achieved my public trainer licence and set out on my own.”
It wasn’t long before he made his mark, being three-time Zimbabwe champion trainer before relocating down south in 2002.
“It was tough when I first arrived, as I didn’t know many people. But luckily I had some decent Goldkeepers with me and we got off to a good start.”
Indeed, his early success here was all down to sons of Goldkeeper, as the likes of Greek God and Wild Cherry did their bit, while star juvenile Golden Care was exported to Hong Kong after finishing runner-up to Ice Cube in the Grade 1 Gold Medallion of 2003.
Zim champion Hide Out also thrived in SA, winning three races. He provided Paul with his only Durban July runner thus far, finishing well downfield as recently deceased legend Dynasty stormed to victory in 2003.
A first SA Grade 1 followed when sprinter Let’s Rock’n Roll was a shock winner of the Golden Horse Sprint at Scottsville in 2006.
Tiza was around at the same time and, after being exported to France, won no less than four Grade 3s there. Cerise Cherry was another star, going on to great success in Hong Kong.
But racing can be a cruel mistress and some tough times in the doldrums were to follow, due in part to personal and business setbacks.
Eventually the wheel has turned though, and he scored a second Grade 1 win in 2017 when R40,000 purchase Brave Mary won the Allan Robertson Championship before being purchased by Team Valor and relocated to France.
Finding top-class bloodstock at rock-bottom prices has become something of a specialty and, incredibly, Saturday’s three feature winners cost only R150,000 in total.
Cheapest was Storm Bird Stakes dead-heater Twilight Moon, who probably would have won outright had he not hung in seemingly away from the grandstand in the latter stages. Stallion Wylie Hall has made a great start to his stud career and this juvenile son of his cost a paltry R20,000.
“I’m very excited about him. There’s lots of scope and he’s got plenty of speed, but should stay a lot further,” was Matchett’s verdict.
Just over half an hour later undefeated two-year-old filly Basadi Faith surprised a few people by crushing heavy odds-on favourite Gin Fizz in the Ruffian Stakes.
“Master Of My Fate is going to be a top sire. Devin (Habib) was cruising and watching Lerena in the race, and she was super-impressive,” said the trainer.
This one passed through the sales ring unsold, but the ultra-sharp Matchett managed to do a deal that is certain to turn out to be extremely lucrative.
“I liked her a lot and approached vendors Favour Stud afterwards, and managed to get her for R100,000.”
This is owner Juanita van der Merwe’s first horse.
“She is a friend of owner Joe Abreu and he introduced her to the stable.”
Rounding off a perfect day, outsider See You Tyger finished strongly to take the Bauhinia Handicap. After costing a mere R30,000, she has won three of her last four races, and of course now has bold black type.
“Things are going well. We also won the Million Rand Maiden, as well as the Grand Heritage match race this season, so things are rolling along nicely,” Matchett concluded.
With a couple of juveniles as good as Basadi Faith and Twilight Moon, they seem certain to go even better in the near future.
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