Remembering the jockeys

April 9, 2021

The memory doesn’t stretch back far enough to recall when last it happened but on a historic day when Malmoos and War Of Athena were anointed Triple Crown and Triple Tiara champions, nine of the 10 winners at Turffontein were won by the favourites.

This contributed to an all-time record low Pick Six payout of R265, with the first Jackpot paying R9.30. Not even enough to tip the car guard when collecting the money at the local TAB outlet.

Malmoos and War Of Athena were the obvious headlines, while Got The Greenlight, runner-up in last year’s Vodacom Durban July, also impressed when winning another Grade One race. Little wonder he’s been priced up joint 5-1 favourite for the July.

However, while the champion horseflesh was on display, for me the outstanding act was jockey Muzi Yeni. 

He booted home three winners on the card – Got The Greenlight, War Of Athena and Battle Force – and at first glance one might feel entitled to say, “so what, all three were favourites and two were odds-on.”

If only it was so easy.

You have to spare a thought for, and in the process congratulate, Yeni who went into Thursday’s meeting at the Vaal on 93 winners for the season. There’s a lot of pressure on the trainer and owner to “come to the party” when they are involved with a champion and Yeni’s rides aboard Got The Greenlight and War Of Athena, in winning a Grade One and a Grade Two saw him unsaddle to thousands of cheers from around the land.

He had his work cut out on Got The Greenlight after possibly hitting the front too early, but she showed his relief when punching the air aboard War Of Athena some 50m before the line in the SA Oaks. It might look easy and yes, you’re expected to win, but that only adds to the pressure.

In terms of the actual racing this Saturday’s card at Turffontein – there is no Cape meeting – it’s a bit like cleaning up after the Lord Mayor’s show. The party is over, the guests have gone home, but things must go on.

Therefore, having mentioned Yeni, I feel it’s pertinent that we reflect on the theme of Saturday’s Turffontein meeting – the annual memorial to the 13 jockeys who lost their lives in the Hennemen air disaster of 12 April 1988. It’s been 23 years since the United Airways charter flight crashed near the Free State town of Hennemen following a race meeting in Bloemfontein.

On board were the 13 jockeys, five race officials, two owners, one trainer and three-person air crew. All were killed instantly when the  twin-engined Dakota caught fire and crashed on a farm. It remains the biggest tragedy to befell South African racing and is one of racing’s darkest moments anywhere.

It’s important that all these committed and passionate racing folk are remembered and a big thanks goes out to the organisers of the Turffontein meeting. It’s on days like these where the actual racing results are secondary to the big picture.

Those who lost their lives in the Hennemen air disaster in 1988 were: jockeys Keith Basel, Lawrence Riley, Johannes “Rooies” Fourie, Warren Baillie, Bennie de Wet, Greg Holme, Douglas Roper, Danny Lombard, John McMurtry, Mark Nel, Michael Coetzee, Simon Rahilly and Gordon Sterley; officials Graham Kent, Dave Bullock, Henry Havergall, Ginger Masterton and Johannes van der Linden; owners Jacobus Viljoen and Neville Blignaut; trainer Hennie van Wyk, and air crew Jacob Kalt, Harold Whitehead and Jacqueline Henderson.

The main race on the card is the seventh, the R100 000 Spook Express Handicap (Listed) and Sean Tarry’s Aryaam with champion-jockey elect Lyle Hewitsion on board could be the right one. She looks progressive and it could pay to take a multi with Tropic Son (race 2) and I Dream Of Genie (race 3) at around the 16/1 mark.


Picture: War Of Athena and Muzi Yeni, courtesy Phumelela

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