South Africa

'Bling' or 'Speed Dial' for the SA jockey title?

2015-05-15 11:42
Gavin Lerena (File)

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.

Khumalo, at 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” Roberts.

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.

As 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,” said Khumalo.

“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.

Read more on:    horseracing

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