Trainer Profile - Markus Klug

  Baden-Baden is a rather small town in the southwest of Germany, close to the French border and at the doorstep to the Black Forest. But it has groomed its international reputation since the 19th century, when it was known as the “summer residence of the European aristocracy.” These days it is still famous for its spas, the gambling casino, and more recently the biggest opera house in Germany. And let’s not forget: horseracing. The racetrack at Iffezheim, founded in 1858 by Edouard Bénazet, the French tenant of the casino, holds the premier position in Germany – from an economic, social, and sporting point of view. And it is here where it all started for Markus Klug.    Born in Romania in 1976, Klug grew up in Rastatt – just a few strides away from Iffezheim. The 42-year-old has risen from owner-trainer with just one horse to the top of his guild at home, caring for more than 100 thoroughbreds at Rottgen stud, and quickly making his mark overseas as well.    We met at the Spring Festival at Baden-Baden – the first “must do” of the year on the German racing calendar, and a homecoming for Klug, who always seems to have an open ear for the press, unlike some of his colleagues. It turned out to be a rather special weekend for Klug. Not only did he win a Group 3 sprint with one of his favourite horses, Millowitsch, and was honoured as champion trainer in Baden-Baden for the third time in four years, but he also enhanced his international reputation thanks to strong performances of two of his best horses in Epsom and Chantilly.    “I loved to watch racing as a kid in Iffezheim and later started to ride in the morning for trainer Waldemar Himmel,” Klug says about his beginnings. Himmel runs a small yard in Iffezheim but competes rather successfully in the neighbouring France. Horses, however, weren’t the only passion of young Klug. He was a very decent tennis player in his youth, winning the Rastatt town championships as a teenager against the adults.    But soon the horses took over his spare time. “When we owned our first horse, I started to train it and it was clear to me that I wanted to do something with horses.” But becoming a professional trainer always looked like a far-fetched dream. So after passing his A-Levels he decided to study business administration but stopped after two terms. “It just wasn’t for me,” Klug said, but still, he stayed on a supposedly safer track to his future, learning his trade as an insurance salesman.    At the same time he owned a few more horses and did a pretty good job with them. His first winner, Gordian, a four-year-old gelding, came in 2003 on the provincial track of Herxheim close to Iffezheim. He also won races in Austria, Belgium, France, and Switzerland, which is quite unusual for an owner-trainer. By 2009 it was clear to Klug that there must be more to his professional life than selling insurance. He got his licence as public trainer, and then a big door opened for him: “The chance of my life,” as he calls it. Gunter Paul, chairman of the foundation Mehl-Mulhens-Stiftung, made the young man an offer, he just couldn’t refuse. “I turned my hobby into my profession.”    The Mehl-Mulhens-Stiftung owns the stud and racing stable of Gestut Rottgen, one of the most famous and traditional houses in Germany. The stud was founded in 1924 by Peter Mulhens, who made his money with Eau de Cologne 4711. His widow Maria Mehl-Mulhens, who died in 1985, saved the Rottgen legacy by creating the foundation, which apart from racing and breeding thoroughbreds supports horseracing in general, young riders, and helps jockeys who get into trouble due to no fault of their own. The foundation has the lawyer and former president of the highest court in the federal state of Hesse, Günter Paul, in charge.    The beautiful stud is located in Heumar, very close to the major city of Cologne, right in the middle of a forest and fenced off by a large wall. The training track – grass and sand – is 2.5 km long, and the horses have to pass a traffic light on their way from the stables to the working grounds. Rottgen has a fine reputation in the racing world, famously breeding the first German winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Eclipse Stakes, Star Appeal, in the ‘70s.    But things needed changing in the 21th century, and Rottgen needed fresh ideas. “My friends in the racing world were shaking their heads when they heard that I hired Markus Klug,” Paul said. “But I’m a strong believer in giving young, ambitious, hard-working people a chance, as I did get my chances as a young lawyer.” One of the reasons Klug got the job was the fact that he had started a university education. “This showed me that apart from all the passion and knowledge about horses he also has the intellectual capacity to succeed in this job,” Paul says.    Klug did not hesitate to grab the chance with two hands: “I was confident enough that I can do it. It probably helped that we started on a rather small scale.” In 2011 there were only up to 30 horses in training in the yard, mainly owned by Rottgen. “I guess it was a good thing that we did grow very steadily – 40, 60, 80 horses, and now there are 105. But this is the limit, we don’t have more space.”    More than half of his lot now are two-year-olds. “This season won’t be easy. Next year will look different,” Klug says. But in public he is always a bit pessimistic – or realistic as he would probably call it. Looking from the outside there aren’t many reasons for black clouds. The only way has been up for him ever since he took over.    Of the first dozen Group races of the season 2018 Klug has won four – albeit partly thanks to the stewards as Wonnemond, trained by Sascha Smrczek, was disqualified after winning the Fruhjahrsmeile and the Europa Meile at Dusseldorf in April. There were traces of cobalt found in his blood after his first win. The runner-up, the five year old Millowitsch was one of the Klug horses to profit from the doping incident.    Millowitsch proved his class again at Baden-Baden: “This horse is just plain crazy,” Klug beamed after his charge won the Group 3 Silberne Peitsche. “The colt will always have a special place in my heart as he has never been out of the top four and has won Group races over six furlongs, a mile, and 8.5 furlongs.” Millowitsch is bred and owned by Dr Annika Renz, a very faithful owner for Klug since early on. She has strong feelings for Cologne, as Millowitsch is named after the late Peter Millowitsch, a very popular actor who did run a theatre in Cologne. There is also Butzje, which translates to “kisses” in the local dialect. The three-year-old filly won the Group 3 Schwarzgold-Rennen in April.    Another faithful owner from early on for Klug has been Gestut Gorlsdorf. “It was very lucky that our strategic chance for the stud and racing stable coincided with the start of Markus at Rottgen,” says Niko Lafrentz, the husband of Gorlsdorf’s owner Heike Bischoff-Lafrentz. “Thinking of the perfect training grounds at Heumar, we decided to fully trust the young trainer. Right from the start he got our best fillies and we sent him Sea The Moon after we couldn’t sell him at Newmarket.”    The gamble paid off, despite a rather critical situation right at the beginnings of their relationship: The four-year-old filly Berlin Berlin passed the post first in the Group 2 Hansa Preis at Hamburg, but tiny traces of a banned drug to help fight a colic were found. The doping tests were not conclusive, but the stewards still decided to disqualify Berlin Berlin.    Klug had to wait a few months before the Gorlsdorf homebred Hey Little Gorl finally gave him his first Classic win by triumphing in the Group 3 German St. Leger at Dortmund in September 2013. The filly was an offspring of the famous Rottgen stallion Sternkonig, who died in 2010.    The Gorlsdorf filly Wunder managed the first Group win overseas for Klug by taking the Group 3 Prix Chloe at Chantilly in 2014 – the year that really made the trainer, thanks to Sea The Moon. The son of superstar Sea The Stars out of Sanwa, by Monsun, had been the talking horse since he came on the scene as a two-year-old. At three he won the Group 3 Fruhjahrs-Preis at Frankfurt and then the Group 2 Union-Rennen at Cologne, the most important of the country’s Derby trials. So Klug had the clear favourite in the Deutsches Derby at Hamburg-Horn. Sea The Moon duly obliged: under the guidance of Christophe Soumillon, the outstanding colt demolished the Derby field, triumphing by 11 lengths – the biggest win since Orofino in 1981.    That was a performance that put the Gorlsdorf colt at top of the ante-post betting market for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately Sea The Moon got injured at Hamburg and had only one more start, a second place in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden to Schlenderhan-bred Ivanhowe, a multiple Group 1 winner in Germany and Australia (where he races as Our Ivanhowe). Sea The Moon was quickly retired to stand Lanwades Stud in Newmarket in the UK. His first offspring to win was Must See The Doc at Doncaster early this June.    “Markus does not call you but always calls back,” Lafrentz says about his friend. “It’s sometimes difficult to get him talking about your horses but when he does it is always spot on and straightforward. His memory for race results and pedigrees is outstanding.”    Lafrentz reckons there is plenty to come: “He is still young, needs to gather experience. But there is plenty of room for further success and that’s why we will keep sending him our horses, and maybe there is another Derby winner like ‘Moonie’ somewhere.”    After winning the Derby in 2014 Klug famously sank on the turf to his knees to celebrate – another trade of his character. “I’m a very emotional person,” he says. “I can’t hide when I’m happy or disappointed after a close loss or a bad performance. That does not mean that I’m a bad loser.”    The year 2014 also marked Klug’s first title as champion trainer, followed by additional championships in 2016 and 2017. “My role model is Heinz Jentzsch,” Klug admits. The late Jentzsch is Germany’s most successful trainer of all time, winning more than 4,000 races, including eight German Derbies, and he was champion trainer an incredible 31 times.    Klug’s tally stands at two German Derbies, three champion titles, and 450 wins through early June, 2018. These are different times with much less racing in Germany nowadays, however, but Klug has become the dominant force in German racing. Some journalists compare him to Aidan O’Brien, and they are right in some ways: last year he had seven runners in the Derby and half a dozen in the Group 1 German Oaks. He won a quarter of all German Group races in 2017.    The biggest triumph, of course, was the Deutsches Derby, and it was very special indeed as the winner Windstoss carried the colours of Gestut Rottgen. You have to go back to Uomo in 1959, a long time before Klug was even born, to find the last Derby hero from Rottgen. And Windstoss had a very unusual preparation for the Derby: he slipped in a trial at Hannover, and his rider Adrie de Vries – first man at Klug’s yard – broke his finger and was out for months. But Windstoss did compete again a week later in the Group 2 Oppenheim-Union-Rennen with Maxim Pecheur on board, and they finished runner-up behind another Klug horse, Colomano.    With de Vries out of the equation, the Derby mount on Windstoss was open. Rottgen-chief Paul stuck to his principles and was happy with the idea to keep young Pecheur in the saddle. Most other owners and trainers probably would have opted for an internationally acclaimed jockey for a Classic race, but as it had when Paul took a chance with with Klug as well as Frank Dorff, the rather young head of Rottgen Stud, the trust paid off.    The dam side of the pedigree of Windstoss, who’s by Shirocco, goes back to an old Rottgen family. He’s the first foal of Wellenspiel, a daughter of Rottgen’s Sternkonig. Windstoss was offered for sale at the BBAG Yearling Sales in 2015 but was bought back by Rottgen for just 16,000 euros. What a lucky twist of fate, as Windstoss has collected nearly 600,000 euros in price money so far.    Contrary to many German Derby winners in recent years, Klug has managed to keep the colt well and healthy. He confirmed his Hamburg triumph by winning the Group 1 Preis von Europa at Cologne later last year and apparently is even stronger now as a four-year-old. He was third in a Group 2 at Cologne on his seasonal debut and again third in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom, beating decent horses like Hawkbill, Idaho, and Yucatan on the way.    In Windstoss and last year’s German Horse of the Year Dschingis Secret, Klug has two cracks in his yard to try his luck in the big races in Europe. Dschingis Secret, winner in 2017 of the Group 1 Preis von Berlin, the Group 2 Prix Foy at Chantilly, was also sixth in the Arc, and this season has finished runner-up in the Group 2 in the Grand Prix de Chantilly while Klug was at the Spring Festival at Baden-Baden in June.    “If you’ve got a good horse you have to consider going abroad,” Klug says. “I prefer the way the races are run in England and the atmosphere on the tracks is just so much better than in France,” he says. “I love Ascot or Epsom.” But Germany will remain his solid base. “Rottgen does a lot to support German racingl however, the situation here is difficult and it’s hard to earn your oats,” Klug states. “If I were still be self-employed I’m not so sure that I would still train horses professionally.”    Klug considers himself to be a more traditional trainer. “I don’t care too much about sectional times or any scientific data,” he claims. “I’d rather trust my eye, and I do listen to what the riders and lads tell me.” He did do a short apprenticeship with Danedream’s trainer Peter Schiergen at Cologne and learned in early years by watching Waldemar Himmel at Iffezheim.    “I have always loved sports – football, tennis, and horseracing, of course,” says Klug. During the main season he finds it hard to clear his mind of the job he is doing so well and relax. “But after a break of 12 years I’ve picked up tennis again. In the winter months I play twice a week; during summer I try once per week.” During winter he can also follow his other passion – football. Klug is an ardent supporter of Borussia Monchengladbach. He owns a season ticket and tries to watch as many home games as possible. “Last season they weren’t playing very good, I did not see many decent matches,” Klug says. He likes to win – in every field.    Winter is also the time for a holiday, as he is not sending any horses to the all-weather tracks of Dortmund or Neuss. “I manage to take two or three weeks off and travel a bit,” Klug says. This year he booked a trip to Hawaii and used the occasion to marry his girlfriend Susanne. “It was just so easy to do, so we did it,” Klug beams. “We didn’t have to worry about a big party, which in Germany only seems feasible in summer, and for me this almost impossible during the season.”    That’s because this is the time of the year when Klug concentrates on racing day in, day out. There are still many big races he would like to win at least once – in particular back home in Baden-Baden, such as the Group 2 Goldene Peitsche, the most important sprint race in Germany and a race in which Millowitsch finished third last year. Apart from the 40,000 euros in prize money, the winning team gets a golden whip, which has all the winners since 1867 engraved on a leather band. Another race Klug would love to win is the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden, which has the biggest international reputation of all German races and is a springboard for the Arc, as Arc winners Carroll House, Marienbard, and Danedream testify.    Chances are it won’t take too long for Klug to fulfill another of his dreams.    PETER MUHLFEIT

By Peter Muhlfeit

Baden-Baden is a rather small town in the southwest of Germany, close to the French border and at the doorstep to the Black Forest. But it has groomed its international reputation since the 19th century, when it was known as the “summer residence of the European aristocracy.” These days it is still famous for its spas, the gambling casino, and more recently the biggest opera house in Germany. And let’s not forget: horseracing. The racetrack at Iffezheim, founded in 1858 by Edouard Bénazet, the French tenant of the casino, holds the premier position in Germany – from an economic, social, and sporting point of view. And it is here where it all started for Markus Klug.

Born in Romania in 1976, Klug grew up in Rastatt – just a few strides away from Iffezheim. The 42-year-old has risen from owner-trainer with just one horse to the top of his guild at home, caring for more than 100 thoroughbreds at Rottgen stud, and quickly making his mark overseas as well.  

We met at the Spring Festival at Baden-Baden – the first “must do” of the year on the German racing calendar, and a homecoming for Klug, who always seems to have an open ear for the press, unlike some of his colleagues. It turned out to be a rather special weekend for Klug. Not only did he win a Group 3 sprint with one of his favourite horses, Millowitsch, and was honoured as champion trainer in Baden-Baden for the third time in four years, but he also enhanced his international reputation thanks to strong performances of two of his best horses in Epsom and Chantilly.

“I loved to watch racing as a kid in Iffezheim and later started to ride in the morning for trainer Waldemar Himmel,” Klug says about his beginnings. Himmel runs a small yard in Iffezheim but competes rather successfully in the neighbouring France. Horses, however, weren’t the only passion of young Klug. He was a very decent tennis player in his youth, winning the Rastatt town championships as a teenager against the adults.

But soon the horses took over his spare time. “When we owned our first horse, I started to train it and it was clear to me that I wanted to do something with horses.” But becoming a professional trainer always looked like a far-fetched dream. So after passing his A-Levels he decided to study business administration but stopped after two terms. “It just wasn’t for me,” Klug said, but still, he stayed on a supposedly safer track to his future, learning his trade as an insurance salesman.

At the same time he owned a few more horses and did a pretty good job with them. His first winner, Gordian, a four-year-old gelding, came in 2003 on the provincial track of Herxheim close to Iffezheim. He also won races in Austria, Belgium, France, and Switzerland, which is quite unusual for an owner-trainer. By 2009 it was clear to Klug that there must be more to his professional life than selling insurance. He got his licence as public trainer, and then a big door opened for him: “The chance of my life,” as he calls it. Gunter Paul, chairman of the foundation Mehl-Mulhens-Stiftung, made the young man an offer, he just couldn’t refuse. “I turned my hobby into my profession.”

The Mehl-Mulhens-Stiftung owns the stud and racing stable of Gestut Rottgen, one of the most famous and traditional houses in Germany. The stud was founded in 1924 by Peter Mulhens, who made his money with Eau de Cologne 4711. His widow Maria Mehl-Mulhens, who died in 1985, saved the Rottgen legacy by creating the foundation, which apart from racing and breeding thoroughbreds supports horseracing in general, young riders, and helps jockeys who get into trouble due to no fault of their own. The foundation has the lawyer and former president of the highest court in the federal state of Hesse, Günter Paul, in charge.

The beautiful stud is located in Heumar, very close to the major city of Cologne, right in the middle of a forest and fenced off by a large wall. The training track – grass and sand – is 2.5 km long, and the horses have to pass a traffic light on their way from the stables to the working grounds. Rottgen has a fine reputation in the racing world, famously breeding the first German winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Eclipse Stakes, Star Appeal, in the ‘70s.

But things needed changing in the 21th century, and Rottgen needed fresh ideas.

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