Cape Town - With just under three months left in the current season, the race
is on for the Champion Jockey title with S’manga ‘Bling’ Khumalo hot on the
heels of Johannesburg-born and bred Gavin Lerena.
only 30 years of age, has already achieved two of his career goals. The
first was his historic win in the 2013 Vodacom Durban
July aboard Heavy Metal and the second took place last year when he was
crowned as Champion Jockey for the 2013/2014 national racing season.
In 2007 Lerena surpassed the most number of winners ridden by an apprentice
whilst serving his indentures with a record 283 wins - a record that was
previously held for 34 years by 11-time SA Champion Jockey Michael “Muis”
While he feels he might be at a 3kg to 4kg weight disadvantage
with Khumalo, the fact that Lerena hasn’t won a Champion Jockey title yet could
make him even more determined.
“I came very close in 2012, missing out on the
title by one win, this would be my first,” said Lerena.
at Tuesday this week, Lerena has ridden 140 winners with only a small advantage
over Khumalo who is on 138 winners.
Both Khumalo and Lerena still feel that the race for the
championship is wide open. Lerena firmly believes that, at this stage,
any jockey in the top eight still has a realistic chance at winning the title.
Without a doubt this year’s championship is set to go down to the wire.
“Although I won the championship last year for the first time in
my career, I feel that naturally any sportsman wants to be recognised as the
best in his or her chosen profession and I am no different. I do understand
that there are new challenges that I will face, but I will nonetheless be
trying my best and give my all as always until the very end of the season,”
“My goals for the last couple of months will be to ride as many
winners as possible and to stay away from any and all injuries”.
Known affectionately as ‘Bling’ within racing
circles, a 15-year-old Khumalo was spotted by a talent scout who
visited his school in KwaMashu in Durban. While his small 154cm frame
had been the cause of much teasing as a teenager, the scout
recognised his small stature as an ideal starting point to see if he had what
it takes to become a jockey. And that he did. In 2000 Khumalo joined the Durban
Jockeys Academy at Summerveld where he started a five year
apprenticeship. And the rest, as they say, is history. Khumalo has been
racing professionally since 2006.
The only nickname Lerena is aware of is “Speed dial
Lerena” thanks to commentator Alistair Cohen.
“I intend enjoying this time without putting any unnecessary
pressure on myself,” he said.
The vastly experienced Piere Strydom, who has won the
Champion Jockey title six times and in November last year rode his 5 000th
career winner, a milestone unmatched by any jockey in the
history of South African horseracing, is currently in fifth position with
127 winners, but is by no means out of the running for the title.
“It’s always a tremendous feeling to be in contention
for the title. It’s never my intention to chase championships as such, although
if I end up close enough towards the end, I will definitely put in a good
effort,” said Strydom.
This exciting race for Champion Jockey is the perfect platform to
invigorate interest and acquire new fans to the sport of horseracing - an
objective of Racing. It’s a Rush. This initiative was
officially launched in August last year, with the aim of bringing
horseracing back to the forefront of the lifestyle entertainment industry. With
the major players in South African horseracing having joined together to
promote this incredible sport, the campaign aims to bring back the glamour, the
excitement, the thrill and the rush of horseracing in South Africa.
“I think it’s very
exciting that there is a new interest being invested in the sport of
horseracing. Everything about horseracing is my passion and Racing. It’s a Rush
will help create increased passion for the sport and many more people will
learn to love the sport as much as I do,” says Khumalo.