Carl Burger has finally lost his long-running battle with ill-health and he was buried yesterday at the age of 60.
The former Philippi trainer had his biggest success when Richard Fourie rode Grey Cossack to victory in the Gold Vase on Durban July day in 2011 – and the win meant rather more to him than it would have done to most trainers in similar circumstances.
“Greyville was my home town, I was born in a hospital nearby and I went to school down the road from the course,” he was to recall. He often played truant to attend the mid-week meetings – “the teachers would go there to look for me on Wednesdays and even as a schoolboy my dream was to have a winner there.”
It was a long time coming. He worked as a farrier from 1980 to 1984 and then joined Metrorail as an electrical fitter “although I was still always going to the races.”
He went on to work as a commodity dealer and was also involved in boxing promotion. But the call of racing was never far away and he worked for Herman Brown snr, Weiho Marwing and Selvan Moodley before setting up on his own account in 2009. Grey Cossack’s win at 13-1 in the following year’s Durbanville Cup was his first feature.
He was one of the first in Cape Town to train for Braam van Huyssteen who was part-owner of Grey Cossack. However his string remained relatively small and, while he shrugged off his increasing health problems, they struck with horrifying vengeance in July 2016. A fortnight after having a quadruple heart bypass operation he had to have his left leg amputated below the knee.
Riaan van Reenen came to the rescue by offering a training partnership (“What are friends for if you are not there for them when they need you?”). It seemed an unlikely combination – two outspoken men each with their own firm views about most things, including how horses should be trained. But for two seasons it worked well before Burger decided he could not continue. Thereafter he was seldom seen on the racecourse.
Van Reenen, who probably knew him better than anyone, said on the way to yesterday’s funeral: “Carl wore his heart on his sleeve and he spoke without thinking of the repercussions but he had a kind heart.
”He also had a great passion for German Shepherd dogs (he had six of them) as well as for horses and indeed for all animals – he couldn’t bear to see any of them suffer. He will be sorely missed.”
By Michael Clower