Jeff Lloyd and Piere Strydom

Any student of the racing game with an appreciation for its subtleties, will appreciate this. For years now, we’ve known that South Africa has no peers when it comes to the production of world-class jockeys, and we guess that Jeffery’s Lloyd’s victory in the Australian Derby (Gr1) last weekend was yet another endorsement of this statement. Back in Hong Kong, 16 of the last 17 jockeys’ titles in the dominion every jockey wants to ride in, tells us of the remarkable job the South African Jockey’s Academy has done in its 50 year existence (which incidentally, is celebrated this year in October).

Racegoers at Gauteng’s biggest race meeting of the year, witnessed eight Graded Stakes races last Saturday and a masterful exhibition from a jockey who is just about as good as anyone in the world right now.

Throughout last week, and in every interview before the cameras, Piere Strydom played down the prospects of his runners in the three Group Ones, the Gomma Gomma Challenge, the Computaform Sprint and the S.A.Derby. For the Challenge, he was aboard Eddington, whom he thought hadn’t stayed the trip in the SA Classic (over 1800m) a month before, and so he said he could see no reason why the horse should get the trip against his elders. He did concede though, in the same breath that his trainer Dominic Zaki, thought he would. For the Sprint, he thought Mythical Flight would be unbeatable, and that they would all be scrubbing their heads off, including his own mount, JJ The Jet Plane, to keep up with him. He said the trick was to bide one’s time without letting Mythical Flight get out of sight, and then run on for second money. In the Derby, he was on something of a “no-hoper”, Classic Oasis, and so the story went.

Come the day, and the first of the “big three”, the Derby, loomed with Strydom in imperious form. He pinched the lead at the right moment, and raced away from the field, opening up by six or seven lengths well into the straight, and it was only the class of King’s Gambit that cost him the race in the end. There were those that felt he had no right to be in the money at all, yet he held on for a gallant second from a fast finishing Rudra, and it was only jockeyship, and the obvious talk of the consummate “games-man” during the week that got him there.

Enter the Computaform Sprint, and it was just a matter of Mythical Flight having to fluff his lines in the treacherous conditions, and anything could happen. Perhaps in hindsight, it was predictable that this man Strydom, who must now surely rank among the all-time greats of South African racing, should bring his horse home in such style, keeping him balanced right to the line. For the record, Mythical Flight appears to have a “wind” problem.

And then for the big one, where despite his claims that the horse was an unlikely stayer, and having spoken his colleagues solidly to sleep during the week, he jumped Eddington out and led from pillar to post, going away by 2 ½ lengths at the death under a masterful ride.

Yes, Piere Strydom is a world class professional, but he’s not only skilled on a horse. He would’ve excelled in the legal profession as well, given the chance!