Tobie Spies has been involved in all facets of racing from an early age, and has now returned to the helm as lead trainer of the Spies yard. We speak to his son Corne who provides a background into Tobie’s start with horse racing, his progression through the ranks as a trainer, and how he goes about finding potential equine champions at the various sales. Read more here.

Where did it all start for your father Tobie?
Tobie grew up with horses on his father’s farm called Haasfontein between Bethal and Middelburg in Mphumalanga. His father Cornelis Johannes Spies used to participate in the local “bush racing” in the area with some retired thoroughbreds that they got from the Witwatersrand.
Tobie won his first race as a jockey on one of these horses at the age of 7, and has many fond childhood memories of these “bush races”. Of the those memories includes winning 5 of the 7 races staged on a given day with the same horse! The only reason he did not win the other 2 races was because they were for non thoroughbreds!

The bug had truly bitten him and he applied to the Jockeys Academy but was deemed to be too ‘over-sized’ to be a jockey.

He then started a career as a surveyor on the mines and soon proved his worth becoming the youngest senior official in the Anglo American group at the time with 13 mining qualifications. However, his heart was always in racing.

In 1977 he acquired a couple of broodmares and started breeding thoroughbreds as a hobby. When the oldest foals he produced became of racing age he applied for an Owner Trainers license with the then Jockey Club of SA and the rest is history.

Tobie’s first winner came with a little grey filly called Mantilla that he got as a present from the Goodman family.

How long has Tobie been involved in the horse racing industry?
Tobie has been involved in the racing industry for 41 years in numerous capacities. These include Breeder, Owner, Owner Trainer, Trainer, Stud Manager, TBA selector, Assistant trainer (to me, his son) and now it has gone full circle to be back training.

What are the highs & lows in his career?
Highs include winning the Queen’s Plate with Yardmaster, winning two of the four Bloodline Million races, and more recently winning the Tsogo Sun Gold Medallion with Van Halen. A big low was when Yardmaster was the favourite to win the Dingaans Handicap. The meeting was cancelled on the morning of the race with an outbreak of Equine Enfluenza.

What was the best horse Tobie ever trained?
Over the years he has been involved with many top horses and it would be unfair to compare them over the different generations. Those that stand out are no doubt Yardmaster, Petros, Fast Gun and Mysterious Hal. Fun Fly and Rock Opera are standouts in his time as assistant trainer with me. He’s been barely back training a month, and already he’s proved his master-ship with Van Halen winning the Grade 1 Tsogo Sun Gold Medallion!.

What does Tobie look for when walking around the sales yard?
A lot of emphasis is put on the physical specimen’s conformation and athletic looks. Over the years the Spies family has proven that their system works when buying top performing horses from the bottom drawer.

Where is Tobie’s stable currently based?
Tobie’s main yard is at the Vaal Race Course with a satellite yard at the Fairview Race Course in Port Elizabeth.

What is Tobie’s best attribute that has led to him being successful as a trainer?
Besides having an absolute life long passion for the thoroughbred, Tobie believes that you make your future in the sales ring. It is of the upmost importance to buy the specimen today that can win you the right type of races tomorrow.

Could you tell us more about his team at the stables?
Long time “stable jock” Francois Naude assists Tobie today. Francois started riding for him in the early 90’s and his association with the family continued when I started training. Fransie knows our systems and is a huge asset to our yard. The head grooms are Johannes Dlamini and Isaac Moloi, who both started as young men when Tobie opened his yard at the Vaal in 1985. These horsemen have grown to be like family. Johannes is a qualified workrider, however the team of grooms employed at the yard all ride work, with most having been with the Spies Family for more than a decade.

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