St Oswald’s Anglican Church in Milnerton will open its doors to the racing community at 2.00pm on Thursday for them to pay their last respects to Terrance Millard, a man many regard as the greatest South African trainer of all time.
But not ‘The Maestro’ himself. “I wasn’t,” he would say modestly. “There was Syd Laird and he took over from Syd Garrett who was the best trainer we ever had.”
It is always difficult to judge one generation against another, and doubly so if you have spent most of your racing life elsewhere, but a poll of the present generation would be odds-on to come up with Millard and Mike de Kock many of whose overseas successes are all the more remarkable for being achieved in the face of quarantine stipulations bordering on the impossible.
Millard’s roll of honour, displayed in the Kenilworth grandstand, speaks for itself – champion trainer seven times, 2,257 races won including 117 Group 1s; the Met, Durban July and Gold Cup six times each; the first three in the July twice (nobody else has done that even once). And as for the Paddock Stakes 16 times, only Aidan O’Brien can match it – with 16 victories in the Phoenix Stakes.
Millard’s life is well documented. He was even doing it himself after he retired only to baulk when the publishers wanted him to include what he called the juicy bits. But his career wasn’t all plain sailing and he was even forced to take work as a stuntman when his letters to English trainers seeking a job as an assistant failed to elicit even a reply.
Although he struck lucky with the broken-winded Laddie in his first year as a trainer – he bought the gelding for £25 and gave a half share to a couple of vet friends in return for the operation and the horse earned enough for him to buy a house and the vets to build a hospital – he was obliged to bet to attract patrons and keep his existing ones.
“I was forced to set horses up and the owners then wanted to see me have a bet to give them the confidence to put their own money down. I didn’t enjoy betting at all but this taught me a lot about training.
“It was hard to get horses. I had to have eight to get the licence in 1954 but it was slow progress and it was a long time before I had more than 20. I was not leading trainer until 1969 when I had 56 which was a big stable at that time, and I did not win the July until 1983 because I didn’t have the horses and for many years I couldn’t afford to travel to Durban. Eventually I was training 100 and, although I went a little bit over that sometimes, I wasn’t comfortable with more.”
Moving to Blouberg with its custom-built gallop in 1979 proved a major step forward. “The sand by the sea was not reliable because it would not be the same consistency each day so I built a sand gallop that ended uphill. I would firm it with water and it gave me a wonderful advantage.”
He retired in 1991 when he was only 61 to give son Tony a chance and Millard jnr showed he was a chip off the old block by winning two Mets and a July before moving to Hong Kong. “I told him to take the job. If you make money there you keep it whereas here I have seen blokes going broke even though they were training winners.”
Tragedy struck in 1982 when elder daughter Jenny was drowned while windsurfing off Cape Town (her sister Carol was a jockey before becoming Mrs Geoff Woodruff) and again in 1989 when most of his best horses were killed when the lorry coming back from Durban overturned near Worcester.
Why was he so successful? “I started right down at the bottom and I stuck at it but also because I discovered that every horse has a problem. If you can find it, you can maximise his performance.”
I asked others the same question. This is what they said:
Brother-in-law and rival Ralph Rixon: “Terrance was a great horseman and he was clever with his runners but also because he had a terrific inquiring mind.”
Vaughan Marshall: “He was a very good trainer and he taught me a lot of what I know.”
Dean Kannemeyer: “I used to ride work for him as a boy. He had a great eye for a horse, he picked a nice type and my father said: ‘Watch Terrance and see how well he places his horses in the build-up to the big races.’”
Karl Neisius: “He was a brilliant horseman and he was way ahead of his time. That was why he had so much support.”
Anton Marcus: “He had such presence about him that as kids we would look at him in awe. I only had a handful of rides for him but I won the Met and Queen’s Plate on Empress Club for Tony as well as the July on Dancing Duel.”
Glen Kotzen: “Early in my career I asked him what advice he would give a young trainer. He replied: ‘Learn to teach your horses to go through the sound barrier and, when the wheels come off, don’t change anything. And travel – because those that travel learn.’ He came back with all those good Argentinian horses years before anyone else did.”
By Michael Clower
Image Caption: Terrance Millard trained the 1992 Rothmans July winner ILLUSTRADOR.