Over the past couple of months 18 year old Donovan Dillon has caught the eye of several astute trainers with his skilful and enthusiastic handling of his mounts. After entering the academy in 2010 it was a full year before he rode in his first race. In his own words it gave him an indescribable adrenalin rush, perhaps only surpassed by when he won his first race on Baranova for trainer Michael Roberts, who he describes as ‘THE LEGEND’. The jockey who inspires him most is Piere Strydom, so he is obviously a young man who picks his heroes well. One of the horses he has set his sights on riding in the forthcoming KZN winters season is Danish Silver, on whom he won a very good tactical race a few months ago. He freely admits that there is nothing that he dislikes about being a jockey and has set his sights on becoming the champion apprentice. It is early days yet, but Donovan Dillon is clearly a ‘star of the future’.
What is your name and age? Donovan Dillon and I am 18 years old.
What is your star sign and birthdate? Scorpio. I was born on the 14th November 1993.
Where were you born? Gauteng.
Where do you live? At the South African Jockey Academy and my family live in Glenvista.
Tell us about your family? My dad passed away in 2001. My mom is Lahni and my sister’s name is Letoyha. We are a very close family. I also stay with my gran, Bernise, sometimes when I am in JHB.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? They call me “DONNY”.
Favourite food? Spaghetti Bolognaise.
Favourite drink? Fanta Orange with tons of ice.
Favourite music? House.
Favourite sport? Horse racing followed by rugby. However, I am a sports fan and enjoy all sports. I support the BLUE BULLS!
Favourite soccer team? Manchester United.
What is your favourite holiday destination? I would like to go to Mauritius.
Briefly discuss your school days in terms of favourite subjects? I am a maths boffin and absolutely love it.
As a school boy did you follow horse racing and did you have any favourite horses or jockeys that you followed? Absolutely no interest at all.
How did your interest in horse racing come about and how did you get into the academy? A friend of my mother at work introduced me to the Academy. My late father always wanted to be a jockey.
By the time you went to the academy had you ever ridden a horse? I had never even touched one.
When did you start your apprenticeship? I started in 2010.
Who were your fellow apprentices at that intake? Bryan Claassen, Gerrit Olwagen and Jarrid Penny.
Describe a typical day at the academy? Wake up at 4am, ride work until 9:30am. After that I have breakfast and go to school from 10:20am until 3:30pm. We then go to stables.
Your current riding master is Rhys van Wyk. He had a wonderful career as a jockey. How inspiring is it to be mentored by such a successful man? It is very inspiring and I really enjoy being taught by him. He was a great jockey.
Once you got into the academy which senior jockey inspired you the most? Piere Strydom.
How long were you in the academy before you competed in your first race? Tell us about that first ride? I was here for a whole year before I got my first race ride on Captain Lovemore for Dennis Bosch at Clairwood. It was an adrenalin rush like you can’t believe!
Tell us about your first winner? The feeling is indescribable. I won on Baranova for trainer Michael Roberts, THE LEGEND!
Which were the trainers who took the most interest in you and were prepared to help you along the way? Mr. Michael Roberts gave me the gap I needed and also Mr. Charles Laird. To these men and all the other trainers that support me, I am truly grateful.
Which tracks have you raced on and which do you like the most? Greyville, Clairwood, Scottsville, Turffontein, Vaal and Arlington. My favourite is Clairwood as it is a very fair track.
How many winners have you ridden to date? 12 winners and please God many more to follow.
You are getting some really good rides from various stables. Is there any chance you could, in the near future, become stable jockey to any of them? I am not sure but I am working very hard at it. I would love the opportunity.
Which do you consider to be the best horse/horses you have won on to date? Rio Carnival.
What are your short & long term ambitions? Short term: Apprentice of the year and long term: SA Champion apprentice.
With the KZN winter season upon us which horses have you set your sights on? Danish Silver, Rio Carnival (hopefully I keep the ride!) and Talente.
What is your most memorable moment in racing thus far? Without a shadow of doubt my first winner! Followed by riding my first double.
Is there anything about being a jockey that you dislike? No, I love it all.
What is your ideal riding mass and do you have problems maintaining it? 48kgs and I am lucky that I have no weight problems.
You have probably noticed that many trainers and jockeys have sponsors. How important do you think it is to have a sponsor? Yes, I would enjoy a sponsor and I would be a good ambassador.
How good a judge are you in assessing gallops? A very good judge, if I may say so myself.
Do you take an interest in the breeding side of the game and if so, which is your favourite stallion? A little and my favourite stallion is Jet Master. Pity he has passed on.
If for any reason you didn’t become a jockey what would have been your alternate career option? A mechanical or electrical engineer.
Outside of racing do you have anything else you are passionate about? My dear family. I love them all so much.
Do you think racing is well-policed? Well, I have been suspended before, so yes!
Do you have a steady girlfriend or are you concentrating on your career? CONCENTRATING ON MY CAREER!!!!!