Callan Murray is back with a bang after his Australian stint and started his professional career in style, winning his first start as a fully fledged jockey. Although an assault on the log is out of the question with what is left of the racing season, he has his sights set high nevertheless.
South African and Zimbabwean Champion Apprentice Callan Murray clinched his dual championship titles in his final apprenticeship year and, after riding a winner at his last local race meeting as an apprentice, jetted off for a short stint in Australia with David Hayes’ Lindsay Park team. Callan landed running, posting a solid 0.7 length 4th on his first ride at Park Kilmore country course on Monday, 12 December, followed by two more places at Flemington on Saturday, 17 December. His first win came aboard Strictly Legit at Mornington country course on Tuesday, 20 December and was followed by his first Metro win on Wednesday, 21 December at Sandown-Hillside, when he steered Barjeel to victory in Sheikh Hamdan’s blue and white silks. In total he notched 4 winners and a clutch of places from a total of 14 rides. Having come out of his time in early January, Callan returned to South Africa on 21 January as a fully fledged jockey and as we have come to expect from this likeable and determined young man, he’s started as he means to go on, winning at his very first ride back, aboard Talbec in the 2600m MR72 handicap at Turffontein for the Mike de Kock yard.
“I actually landed back in South Africa at 4am that day,” admits Callan. Teasing that he must be a glutton for punishment, he says, “I was excited to get back. It’s gone extremely well and I can’t complain at all. I’ve been getting good rides and into the winner’s enclosure which is what matters.”
One of those good rides was the Australian import Ektifaa, on which Callan won the Gr2 Choice Carriers Championship at Kenilworth last November and who came back after a short break to beat the boys in the Gr3 Tony Ruffel Stakes at Turffontein on 11 February. Callan does a lot of work for the De Kock string and gets fond of his charges and Ektifaa is no different. “I was so happy. Coming into the race I was pretty confident. I’d been working her and she was working well. I assumed she’d run a good race, but it’s never easy against the colts. We were drawn 2 and Piere Strydom made the pace, so it was a really easy job from the draw. I probably went a little early, but she quickened well and I think she’s improved from the last time she went to the course.”
What lessons did he bring back from Australia? “I suppose, in particular, pace. Studying with times probably gave me a bit of a better idea. I think I’m placing horses better, given how much more difficult it is there than here. I think that’s probably been the biggest benefit.”
The Aussie Experience
Callan stayed with his host, Matt Pumpa and the two became good friends. “Matt is going to come out here and visit me in the future. I also made good friends with three of the other apprentices, which was really nice and we’re all looking to meet up sometime, which is great.”
In terms of his Australian stint, Callan says, “It was obviously a bit different to here. You do a lot of the stable work, not only the riding.” Working strictly according to the clock was also a new experience. “I sort of prefer working on feel like in South Africa to be honest, but the times can be beneficial in some cases. It all depends on the horse though,” he acknowledges. “If I was working here, the instructions might be to go 800m at a half pace. There they would say, ‘go half a mile in 55 seconds.’ You’ve got a little beeper to help you get your seconds right and you’ve got to try and go evens from the 1200m which is 14 seconds per furlong. It’s pretty confusing at first, but that’s how they work. Mr Hayes was alright, but some trainers can get very angry if you’re even a second out. It’s crucial there. I think it works the same in Hong Kong and Singapore. Times give you a good idea of how a horse is working and you can see whether horses are improving their times. It’s not only about doing faster times, but also about doing the work more easily than before. So it’s good in that sense.”
Callan also got to experience the Australian system of barrier trials. “We did barrier trials every Friday at Flemington. They also have something called Jump Outs, which are like a barrier trial and the times are posted, but they’re not official. The official ones I rode in were fun and they are a benefit to racing, without a doubt. There are lots of different aspects why. One is that their apprentices need to ride a minimum number of barrier trials before they are allowed to ride in a race. The trials are so similar to a race. Even though half the horses you wouldn’t let off the bit, it gives you race riding experience, so you come to a race knowing what you’re doing. Horses also learn to race well and as a jockey it gives you a good idea as you get to know what you’re trialling against. Obviously young horses are bound to be pretty green regardless, but I definitely think it makes a difference and they come into a race knowing how to do it. I also think it keeps things very transparent for the public and I think it’s very beneficial to them.”
There was quite a lot of interest by the Australian press in the South African visitor and Callan says he was asked to do a number of interviews and even went on radio. “They’ve got quite a good set-up with their Racing.com website – all the news comes on there and it’s all available in one app – news, replays and declarations are all done through the same app. It’s so convenient.”
But he was missed at home too. “I did get messages from lots of people and there have been heaps of messages to get though. It was really nice.”
Callan has completed his apprenticeship period and is now riding as a fully fledged jockey. He’s also living at home again, which he says has its pros and cons. “My family are really happy to have me back. If there’s anything I brought back from my trip, it’s probably doing housework and my own laundry, which is something we take for granted a bit here. Fortunately I don’t have to do too much though!”
Callan may look young and fresh-faced, but he has a very determined and organised head on his shoulders and is already assessing and planning his first season. “Because I’m starting in January and I’ve obviously missed some time being away, for me it’s a little bit of a mess up and there’s not really a chance to be competitive in what’s left of the season. I think I’m on around 40 winners at the moment and I’d like to ride a couple more, but I have no specific goals.”
He has racked up 8 winners and a host of place cheques since his return and he confirms, “ Since I’ve been back, my strike rate has been over 10%, which I’m very chuffed about. I’ve never finished a season above 10% and I’m currently above that and am trying to keep it there, so that’s really important. I can also be a little more selective about my rides now, and that also helps. Next season I’ll be aiming for 100 winners for the season.”
Callan also intends to travel to consolidate and cement the relationships he has built up in ‘away’ centres. “I am travelling as much as I can, to be honest. I’m in PE on Fridays, Kimberley on Mondays, Joburg mid-week and Zimbabwe over the weekends.” Despite its troubles, Zimbabwe has been a good hunting ground for Callan and he clocked up 3 wins at his last visit.
As far as horses go for the rest of the season, Callan is hoping to stay with Ektifaa and Rafeef, who finished 2nd in the Listed Wolf Power 1600 and which he rates as being very talented.