Below is an extract taken from Mike de Kock’s weekly column in The Citizen. Not one to mince his words, our Mike! Any comments?

Mike de KockMike de Kock“SEVERAL years ago, when then New York mayor and current US Presidential Candidate Rudolph Giuliani achieved remarkable results in his anti-crime campaign, he stated that his success was largely due to curbing petty crimes as a priority, before moving on to bigger problems.

We in the South African racing industry, impressed by recent efforts by the Racing Association to recreate a good atmosphere on racetracks, can really not expect to see lasting, measurable success if the “little things” are not done correctly.

I believe Clyde Basel and the team at the RA are on the right track with the changes they have made at Turffontein, which are aimed mostly at restoring elegance and the traditional racing experience.

Meanwhile Advocate Altus Joubert, in his address to guests at the Cape Guineas Dinner, made a strong case for the preservation of tradition in South African racing.

Joubert lambasted those responsible for giving races in Gauteng what in his opinion were silly and insignificant names like the Gardenia Handicap, the Allez France Stakes or the Man O’War Stakes. Give us names, said Joubert, that reflect the history of South African racing. Why should races be named after flowers, or overseas equine heroes who in reality mean nothing to the South African racegoer?

With this I am pointing out the betterment of racing via the return to traditionalism, as promoted by Joubert, and for the purpose of this column will focus primarily on the traditionally respectful attitude of jockeys, or the lack of it.

You would have read my comments about Piere Strydom earlier this week and this is certainly not another knock at Piere, rather a plea for more professional attitudes in the jockeys’ ranks in general.

In speaking to a seasoned jockeys’ agent at the weekend I heard some worrying stories. One of the country’s leading jockeys, after finishing downfield on one of his mounts, shouted at the trainer (one of KZN’s most senior individuals) no to put him on a piece of s**t ever again.

The same jock a few years ago arrived late in the parade ring after being requested to canter a runner down to the start ahead of the field because she was fractious. When asked why he was late, he said he was having a cup of tea with some owners. This attitude comes from a jockey who, like his colleagues, have zero financial input into the sport. Have any of them applied for owners’ colours like they are allowed to do now?

After the running of Saturday’s Paddock Stakes I opened an inquiry into Greg Cheyne’s riding of our filly Loofah. I instructed Greg implicitly to place her no better than midfield, but he sat second soon after the start. I would like to hear what the outcome of this inquiry would be and if the Stipendiary Stewards would simply shrug their shoulders like Greg did.

There are countless examples of jockeys not fulfilling engagements, not listening to instructions, getting off rides they don’t consider to be good enough, chirping owners and trainers with the kind of cynical wit that doesn’t belong in the pre-race parade ring and don’t care attitudes afterwards.

I suppose one has to sympathise with the Stipes in certain cases, because their suspensions are often overturned in higher offices and at times they might feel disheartened. Still, they should be more vigilant and ask more questions. Are jockeys starting to control the game?

There seems to be a general slackness, a kind of l aissez faire among even our top riders. My agent friend informs me that some jockeys are not good payers. He spent days phoning his jockey for a pay cheque recently, then arrived at his house to be told that the phone wasn’t answered because it had been left elsewhere. However, a little while later he dialled the number and the phone was found hidden under the jockeys’ couch pillows!

Can you imagine Felix Coetzee, Anthony Delpech, Jeff Lloyd or Douglas Whyte getting involved in things like these? Let me tell you why these guys are at the top. They are there not only because of their athleticism, but because they have a fierce commitment to professionalism, to honouring what is in essence an honourable profession.

With many leading riders now having departed for other shores, it is time that trainers across the board start giving rides to those jockeys who give their pounds of flesh. Gavin van Zyl, jockey turned trainer, touched on this very subject in an article recently, telling how he received a “wake-up call’’ soon after he joined the trainers’ ranks.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back to the days when apprentices were indentured to senior trainers for the duration of their apprenticeships? The true greats like Gerald Turner, Raymond Rhodes and James Maree, to name but three, rode at a time known as South Africa’s “Golden Era’’ of racing. They were masters of their trade and are respected today as men who made the sport of horseracing in South Africa great.

Jockeys should take control of themselves and their careers, look at the examples set by the Felix Coetzee’s of this world and ask themselves, “How did these guys do it”? The answer is right in front of them, and starts with an apparently little known word called respect.”