Keagan Latham is yet another of South Africa’s accomplished international jockeys, with some 120 winners to his name in four seasons of riding in Ireland. Unfortunately, Irish racing receives limited TV coverage in this country and Keagan’s efforts have gone largely unseen by his countrymen, but the 24 year old has more than held his own in Ireland, a nation with the rightful reputation of producing fearsomely talented horsemen. Currently at home for his annual break from European racing, Keagan will venture into uncharted waters in 2012 when he relocates to England to continue his international career. He has also tasted big race success in the UAE and this former protégé of champion trainer Mike de Kock has all the talent needed to make an even greater splash abroad than has been the case so far. We will be following his British exploits in the new season with great interest.
What is your name and age? Keagan Latham.
What is your star sign and birthdate? Capricorn 3 January 1988.
Where were you born? Durban, South Africa.
Where do you live? I have been living in Ireland but at present I live in Kloof, Durban.
Tell us about your family? I have my dad, Kevin, my mom, Cherry-Anne, my sister, Raine and my step-sister, Michelle. My family supports me where ever I race around the world.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? Keagz, or “Family” (Because I have a tattoo on my shoulder that says Family).
Favourite food? Sushi is one of my favourites, but there is nothing that beats a South African braai.
Favourite drink? Early morning coffee, sparkling water, and Spiced Gold.
Favourite music? Anything with a beat; Black Eyed Peas, Fat Boy Slim, and DJ Fresh.
Favourite sport? Most ball sports, but mainly soccer. I enjoy watching rugby and I am an avid F1 supporter.
Favourite soccer team? Manchester United, obviously.
Where is your favourite holiday destination? Believe it or not, home!
Tell us about your first winner? My first winner was a horse called Rebel Patriot for trainer Duncan Howells, and delightful owners, Mr and Mrs Carlisle, at Scottsville Racecourse, on 2nd February, 2005.
Which trainer’s did you mainly ride for during your apprenticeship and when did you complete it? I started off at Duncan Howells who taught me a lot. I was lucky enough to move to Mike de Kock, where I’ve ridden some top horses and must thank him for the trust he put in me as an apprentice on numerous big days. I then shared a short stint over in Dubai with Herman Brown, which opened up the door to racing in Ireland.
As an apprentice you got rides from Michael de Kock. How did that materialize? At the time Muzi Yeni was apprentice to Mr. de Kock and transferred to Johannesburg. Subsequently there was an opening, and Nathan Kotzen asked me if I would like to join their yard.
What were your biggest achievements whilst riding in South Africa? Over 100 winners as an apprentice. Numerous graded winners, including the Gold Vase (Grade 2), the King’s Cup, and the Flamboyant Stakes (Grade 3’s).
Things happened really quickly for you from apprentice days to going overseas. Tell us about this? Herman Brown gave me the opportunity to race in Dubai for that particular Dubai season. While there, I became friendly with Johnny Murtagh, Irish champion jockey, who offered me the chance to ride for a trainer Ger Lyons, in Ireland.
How did it come about that you started riding in Dubai, mainly for Mike de Kock? In that first season, I raced mainly for Herman Brown but was given rides by Mike de Kock as well. I also raced for other non-South African trainers.
In February 2008 you won the Gr 1 HH The Presidents Cup at Abu Dhabi on a horse called Dynamite. This win caught the attention of top jockey Johnny Murtagh who put you in touch with Irish trainer Ger Lyons, which was the start of an excellent partnership. Tell us about this? We were actually friends before the win.
Ger Lyons recently had his first Group 1 winner. Do you believe that he is becoming a real force in the training ranks in Ireland? I believe that he has improved and there is no reason why his success will not continue.
How well is the Ger Lyons string doing right now and have you high hopes for his stable in the near future? It seems to be doing okay, though Ger tends to have a tendency to sell any horses that are doing particularly well.
Since that time you have had many notable successes. What would you consider to be the most important win of these? Sole Power, which I won on in England, then 3rd on him in France, and had the opportunity to be invited to race him in Hong Kong.
Which horse in Ireland, do you rate the best you have ridden? Sole Power trained by Edward Lynam.
How many winners have you now ridden in Ireland to date? I can’t recall offhand, but I think about 120 winners.
Irish punters are known to have really big money on their fancied runners. Does that create added pressure on you? No, it doesn’t. I focus on trying to win as many races as I can. The punting side of things has no impact on how I race.
What do you think are the important lessons you have learnt from riding in Ireland? I have learnt to ride in much bigger fields, over hilly tracks, and flagstarts. I have also learnt to become a lot more competitive as it is not a big country and you have to fight for your rides.
Where do you live in Ireland? I used to live in Trim, County Meath.
At the moment you are in SA. Do you intend staying for the Cape and KZN winter seasons? No, I am planning on going over to the UK at the end of February.
What is your current riding mass? 54kgs.
Have you been approached by any of the
local trainers about riding for them on a permanent or semi – permanent basis? No, I haven’t. I am currently mainly riding freelance. But my stay here is just a short one.
Are you riding work on a regular basis whilst in SA? Yes – when the rain allows me to!
After your 4 year break from SA have you noticed any significant changes for the better in racing generally? Nothing significant.
You recently rode in Hong Kong on their feature race day where Rocket Man ran. What horse did you ride there and how did you do? A horse called Sole Power, and he ran in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint. He ran okay despite battling with the bend. He was fortunate enough to find himself in front of Rocket Man, as it looks as though he battled to beat the draw.
Is there any chance that you could get a contract to ride in Hong Kong or is that not what you are looking for? The South African jockeys have had great success in Hong Kong and it would be a dream to end up in the same shoes as the greats, like Weichong Marwing, Glyn Schofield, Anthony Delpech, and Douglas Whyte.
Klawervlei Stud is putting up a magnificent prize of R250 000 for the season’s top jockey. What are your thoughts on that? It’s a great offer. I haven’t really given it much thought as I don’t race here for long enough.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt about riding and racing in your career to date? Don’t allow outside influences to affect your work. Focus on the horse, the track, the form, and ride the race to the best of your ability.
From your own observations what do you consider to be the very important factors in order to make a success of riding? The will to win, the ability to get back up again, the determination to try, try and try again and never give up.
What do you think could be done to create excitement into the racing game to bring more people to the track? There should be more sponsorship for jockeys and they should become household names, not just on Channel 232. If the normal man in the street could relate to who a jockey was, or learnt what horse racing was about, that might attract people to the course. I think they should broadcast the big meetings on normal television such as SABC, etc. There should be a cross section of sports personalities – jockeys are never included in an across-the-board sports media presentation.
How do you celebrate a big win? If I’m at home, dinner with family. If I am overseas, generally with friends.
Which has been the most memorable and exciting day you have had in racing thus far? Winning on Wise Son in the Gold Vase on July day in South Africa. Winning on Dynamite in the Presidents Cup in Dubai, and winning on Sole Power in the Temple Stakes in England.
If for any reason you had to give up being a jockey what else would you consider doing? Jeremy Clarkson’s job on Top Gear !
Do you ever advise friends to have a bet when you are riding a horse you feel has a really big winning chance? No, because my friends know what a terrible judge I am.
Outside of racing what is your biggest passion? Spending time with friends, and catching up on sports.
Are most of your friends connected to racing or is it a mix? A mix.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? It’s a hard game – known to tame lions but when you are on top there is no other place you would rather be.
If you had any advice for your fellow associates in the racing game what would it be? Work hard, and keep your head up.