Apart from being given the gift of life by his late mother, FRANCIS TIEHO SEMELA was introduced to the wonderful sport of horseracing thanks to his mum and he has blossomed in his career as a workrider, after starting right at the bottom, as a groom. A humble Semela continuously thanked his late mum during this interview for changing her mind in allowing him to pursue a career in the sport of kings. He recently participated in his first proper workrider series for the 2011/2012 season and finished a very creditable second to his fellow Winning Form-sponsored workrider and five times champion Abram Makhubo. Semela has many wonderful attributes not least of all his love for his family and a desire to achieve. His favourite sport is soccer and he is a great lover of Soweto giants Orlando Pirates who are the current kings of South African football. WINNING FORM is proud to be associated with Francis and will continue to encourage him in every way possible.
What is your name and age? Francis Tieho Semela and I am 25 years old.
What is your star sign and birthdate? My star sign is Pisces and my birthday is on the 24th February 1987.
Where were you born? I was born in Johannesburg at Baragwanath Hospital.
Where do you live? I live in Midrand at Ebony Park.
Tell us about your family? What I would like to immediately say about my family is that they are very loving, caring and responsible people. I have 3 siblings-2 brothers and a sister. My younger sister gets a lot of support from her brothers, and also from other family members. We comfort her to forget about the sadness of the past. What makes me most happy is that we are always there for each other.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? Yes, my nickname is Juju.
Favourite food? My favourite food is pap and steak.
Favourite drink? Schweppes.
Favourite music? I like local house music.
Favourite sport? My favourite sport is soccer.
You are interested in soccer, which is your favourite soccer team? My favourite team is Orlando Pirates and my favourite player is Benni McCarthy.
What is your favourite holiday destination? Cape Town.
Where did you go to school and how enjoyable were your school days? I really enjoyed my school days. I went to Riverside Secondary in the Free State. I participated in all the school activities such as drama and all the sports activities plus I was the chairman of the RCL’s.
Which sports did you play and were you really good at any of them? I was really good at soccer.
Your late mom, Martha Sebolelo, worked for trainer Terry Lowe. Did she talk a lot about the racing and did it inspire you to want to get into the racing game? No. My mum never talked much about racing because she never wanted me to work with horses or to be involved in the game. Her words were not my inspiration. She thought that whenever one stops a child from doing what he thinks is best for him it can spoil his talent.
Originally your mom was against you working with horses but she then changed her mind. Why was it that she decided you could try to make a career out of it? The fact that she now wanted me to be involved in racing inspired me a lot. It means that I am now using my talent and I am doing it on her behalf. I wish that she was still alive so that she could see, and enjoy, the success that I am having in the game.
In 2007 you started with trainer Charles Laird. His stable jockey is Anton Marcus. How much did you learn by being associated with such a master jockey? In 2007 I was not really wise with horses. I was then associated with the king jockey, Anton Marcus, and he taught me how to work horses on the track and how to ride them in racing.
After 4 months you transferred to the yard of Michael Azzie. Michael is known to be a perfectionist when it comes to the way he turns his horses out. Apart from riding work you also had to groom the horses. I really enjoy workriding at Michael Azzie’s stable. This is where I have learned everything about racing and to become all that I am today. I owe it all to Michael, his family and his yard.
In 2008 Michael agreed that you attend James Maree’s riding school. Was the training you received there similar to what the apprentices learn at the academy? The training was not that difficult for me because I already knew a few things about riding horses. I had the best and easy to understand teachers in James Maree and Marthinus Mienie and they are still there to help us.
Once you qualified trainer Azzie allowed you to exercise Penny Kimberley’s horses for her. She gave you your first ride in a work riders race on Divine Qui. That was in a maiden plate at the Vaal on the 8th May 2008. How exciting and inspiring was that for you? Yes, once again thanks to Mike Azzie for everything he has done for me. That was in a maiden plate and it taught me a lot of how to ride in a race as compared to riding horses in work. It was very exciting and enjoyable.
You had to wait for more than 2 years for your first winner. After more than 20 rides you rode Mike Azzie’s I’m Back, who started at 14-1 to win. Tell us about the celebratory party you had that night? It was very exciting for me to ride that first winner. I was very happy because it meant that my dreams were coming true. I partied the whole night at a club known as Busycorner Imbizo.
Tell us about how you managed to catch the attention of champion trainer, Mike de Kock? Diane de Kock introduced me to Mike de Kock. She offered me a job in her yard because of the good work that I was doing. She also suggested that I go to the big yard of Mike and that is how I came to meet him.
In 2009 you went to Dubai with trainer Mike de Kock. Tell us about that experience? I learnt that with hard work I would be given lots of opportunities and this led me to working outside of the country and to learn more about racing in other countries.
Which jockey really impressed you in Dubai? Jockey Frankie Dettori is a great jockey and a big personality.
Who is your favourite jockey in South Africa? Kevin Shea and my favourite overseas jockey is Christophe Soumillon.
To date which do you rate as the best horse you have won on? I would say that the best horse I have won on is Emperor Augustus.
Which do you think are the best horses you have ridden work on? Igugu, Bold Silvano, Potala Palace, Bravura, Dancewiththedevil, Ilha Bela, Vettel and Gorongosa. I think there will be more good horses to come.
Do you ever advise any of your friends to have a punt on any horse you are riding, or have ridden in work, when you believe it has a really good winning chance? No. I do not advise any of my friends to punt any of my horses because I am not interested in that side of racing.
How long have you been riding in the workrider series? This last season was the first time that I participated in the series and I finished second behind the champion Abram Makhubo. I am extremely proud of my achievement and would like to thank all the trainers that have supported me.
What plans have you made for yourself in your career for the near future? My short term plans are to work hard and to ride more winners. My long term plans are to become well known and to become the best person I can be.
From what you have seen and experienced do you think racing is ‘straight’? Yes the rules are very tight and racing is straight.
You are sponsored by Winning Form. How important do you think it is to have a sponsor? It is very important for me to have a sponsor especially a famous company like Winning Form. They supply me with britches, t-shirts, caps, jackets, media coverage and even cash incentives. Their related company, Hollywoodbets.net has also been great to me and has sponsored my soccer team with two kits and five Hollywood soccer balls. It makes me proud to know that I was the first work rider to be sponsored and I am truly grateful to everyone at Winning Form and Hollywoodbets.net.
What does being a work rider mean to you in your daily life? The feeling of having the public cheering us home after a work rider’s race is very important and means a lot to me as a work rider because it gives me the feeling of being a celebrity and also makes me realize just how important my job is.