How Yogas flew with the Martial Eagle

08 February 2013 - 02:06 By Mike Moon
Mike Moon.
Mike Moon.

The story of Martial Eagle and Yogas Govender is worthy of a Hollywood feel-good flick.

Yogas overcame huge odds to become a racehorse trainer. Then he met a seven-year-old "has-been" gelding earmarked for retirement with a dodgy back.

On Saturday the unlikely duo conspired to win the great J&B Met - at rank outsider odds of 80/1 - and write themselves into racing folklore.

Yogas fell for racing as a 12-year-old in Durban. Never into gambling, he got hooked on the horses themselves, videotaping races from SABC's Topsport, marvelling at heroes like Roland's Song and Senor Santa.

His mum still threatens to throw out the old tapes, but Yogas will not hear of it.

Matriculating in 1991, he tried to become a learner trainer but met a brick wall. He had no racing background, no experience with horses, and was Indian, at a time of few "non-whites" in the industry.

He got a management diploma and an admin job.

But the racing bug kept biting and he kept knocking on doors. In 2001, with his dream slipping away, he volunteered to work for nothing in the Clairwood stables of Glen Kotzen - one of the few trainers to give him the time of day.

For months he worked in the yard from 4am to 6.30am, from 4pm to 6.30pm and at weekends - in fact whenever his real job allowed. Kotzen eventually relented and made him an assistant at his Cape Town base.

In 2006, Yogas moved to wealthy owner Sabine Plattner's state-of-the-art training facility at Yzerfontein on the West Coast. When principal trainer Brett Crawford quit in 2009, his assistant took over - to the surprise of a racing world that asked: "Yogas who?"

Plattner bought Martial Eagle from fellow billionaire Mark Slack and raced him with minor success in Durban. But in July last year a chronic troubled back prompted a decision to retire the gelding.

Long story short: Yogas got hold of Martial Eagle and opted to give him a last chance. Instead of being ridden to and from gallops each day, he was led, sans saddle. And he got two back massages each day.

But the key, reckons Yogas, was hours and hours of wading, chin-deep, in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

On the racecourse, the transformation unfolded. Martial Eagle won two races and did well enough to warrant a crack at the Queen's Plate last month.

His fourth there, in tough circumstances, prompted thoughts of the Met - even though he had never tackled the 2000m distance before.

Plattner and Govender lodged a late entry into the big race, paying the R18000 supplementary fee. It was the best money they ever spent.

Given a superb ride by young jockey Aldo Domeyer, Martial Eagle romped home - leaving most of Kenilworth stunned.

I'm working on the movie script.

TURFFONTEIN, TOMORROW: PA - 1,2,4 x 1,2 x 1,2 x 1 x 3 x 3,7,8 x 5,9 (R72)