MJ Byleveld, or Bakkies to many who know him, has worked really hard since joining the academy in 1997 and has made the most of the opportunities which have come his way. His early riding was done mainly in KZN. In a big career move he joined the yard of Dean Kannemeyer where he rode, and won on many, top horses. From Dean’s yard he went on to team up with Vaughan Marshall and this move has seen his career blossom even further. At the same time he was making a name for himself in P.E. where he is now riding with success for Alan Greeff. Last Saturday, 5th January, MJ won the Peninsula Handicap on Hill Fifty Four and he must be commended for a great ride in doing so.
This Saturday he rides in the R1 million Queen’s Plate where he rides one of his favourite horses TRIBAL DANCE, owned by Bridgette Radebe (wife of politician Jeff Radebe). Tribal Dance is the first horse owned by her and it must be said that he has given her a very successful entry into the ranks of owners. MJ will be all out to get the best out of TRIBAL DANCE and it is certain that Mrs Radebe will be watching with great excitement. Racing in SA needs the injection of power and influence that the likes of Bridgette Radebe bring with them, we will be hoping to see TRIBAL DANCE run a great race for all concerned.
What is your name and age? MJ Byleveld, and I am 31 years old.
What is your star sign and birthdate? 27th September 1981 which makes me a Libra.
Where were you born? Warmbaths in Nothern Transvaal.
Where do you live? Durbanville, Cape Town.
Tell us about your family? Dad (Johan), Mom (Johanna). I have 2 sisters. One is younger and one is older than me.
Do you have a ‘nickname’? I have a couple going around, Bakkies would probably be the most common.
Favourite food? I love pap and vleis!!!
Favourite drink? Glass of wine or a good whiskey.
Favourite music? Traditional Afrikaans!!
Favourite book? I don’t like reading.
What are you reading at the moment? Racing publications.
What is the characteristic you like least about yourself? I speak my mind, which is not always in my favour, but that’s the way I am.
Favourite sport? Rugby- Blue Bulls forever!
Are you interested in soccer and, if so, which is your favourite soccer team? I don’t watch it and I don’t follow soccer.
Favourite holiday destination? Anywhere in South Africa. I love game farms.
What tertiary qualification did you achieve? I went to the academy early in life. Being a jockey is my qualification.
You are known to be an avid Blue Bulls supporter. How pleased were you with the team this past season and how do you see them performing next season? They didn’t have the greatest season. I think there is too much rugby around at the moment and the players feel it. Very few teams hold their form these days so it is hard to say.
Were you able to watch many of their games this past season? I try to watch all rugby games!!!!
You joined the jockey Academy in 1997. Who was mainly responsible for you joining the academy? A friend of my dad’s, Aubrey Upton, who sadly passed away last year.
In the early years you were very friendly with Mark Dixon. Now that you are mainly riding in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth do you still manage to keep contact with the Natal trainers who helped you early on? I always try to keep in touch with them all. One can never close any doors in the racing game.
In about 2008 you started riding for Dean Kannemeyer with a fair success rate. How did it come about that you then later joined trainer Vaughan Marshall? Mr Kannemeyer and I split at the end of the 2009 (not 100% sure) season and I started riding work for Mr Marshall. He has given me a lot of opportunities since then.
Which was the best horse, in your opinion, that you rode for Dean Kannemeyer? Le Drakkar.
What was the biggest win you had for the Kannemeyer stable? We won the Cape Guineas in 2008 on Le Drakkar.
The Kannemeyer stable is a long established stable with a history and tradition to go with it. What would you say were some of the main lessons you learned from being a jockey in the yard? To work as a Team!!!!
Since joining the Marshall team you have ridden many winners. It is probably a difficult question but which horse in the Marshall yard do you consider to be the most promising? The West Is Wide has improved a lot!!!!!
Do you ride work for Vaughan every day? I ride 5 days of the week. Wednesdays I try to show my face in Philippi.
With the Cape season coming to a close which horses would you like to see going to KZN for the Winter season? Hill Fifty Four should do well in KZN.
Previously you said that Tan Can, Jagged Ice and Sudden Storm were the best horses you had ridden. What horse or horses would you like to add to that list now? My favourite is Tales Of Bravery, Le Drakkar, Top Seller, Dubai Gina, Solo Traveller, All Is Secret, Valdivia, Hill Fifty Four and Tribal Dance.
Which of the horses you ride would you really like to be involved with during the KZN season? Dubai Gina, Hill Fifty Four and The West Is Wide.
You have struck up a fine partnership with trainer Alan Greeff in PE. How did this association come about? Greg Cheyne was riding for him and left for Hong Kong. He then spoke to Alan and suggested that he use me.
The PE horse, Muscatt, recently won the Need For Speed Sprint for 3 year olds in Cape Town. What is your opinion of the horse having seen him win in PE as well? He has been very impressive since his 1st run.
PE has produced some exceptional racehorses. Apart from Muscatt which PE horses do you think will be worth following right now? Placido and Way Clear are improving nicely.
On Monday 31st you won on the first timer Navistar. He was well backed to win and did so in game fashion. Had he been showing you exceptional work and, all being well, do you rate him as a horse to follow? I don’t ride work in PE so I didn’t know about his work. Alan was very confident and they seldom get beat when he gives me that confidence. Difficult to say at the moment as it was the first 2 year old colts race in P.E. Difficult to know what is still to come. He did win nicely and should improve.
How have your views on being a jockey changed as you settle into your career? At first I thought it was just about riding a horse but I have learnt that there is a lot more to it!!
Is being a jockey as exciting to you now as it was when you first started or has it settled into an everyday type of job? I love every winner I ride, it will always be exciting!!
How many Gr 1 races have you won? 2, and I hope to improve that number in the near future.
Which major feature races have you won? Mercury Sprint, Cape Guineas, Drill Hall Stakes, EP Derby( x 2), Algoa Cup (3 times), Cape and KZN Merchants, Selangor Cup, Matchem Stakes, Langerman (x 2), Odessa Stud Fillies Championship, Winter Classic (x 2), Winter Guineas.
How many races have you won in your career thus far? Not 100 % sure but close to 1000.
You are sponsored by Avontuur Stud whose stallion, Var, is doing exceptionally well. How did you land this prestigious sponsorship? Greg Cheyne was sponsored by them and when he left he put in a good word for me. I’m very lucky and grateful to be associated with the Estate. It’s a fantastic team!!!
What does your sponsorship entail? I must try and promote the Estate, and its products as best I can. Var has made it a bit easier of late!!!!
Does being sponsored by Avontuur make a big difference to your life? I would think so! It’s a great brand and I would like to think that if people talk about Avontuur they, somewhere along the line, will think of me!! Tongue in cheek, but out of sight out of mind.
Now that you are sponsored by Avontuur do you take a much bigger interest in the breeding side of things? It has made me look into it a lot more than before. I definitely look out for horses bred by Avontuur and the Var’s out there!!!!
How impressed are you by the physical part of Var? I am very impressed. He throws them both big and small yet most of them do well!!!!!
Have you seen any babies by Var, on the farm, which have excited you? I have seen a few in the paddocks but I don’t know them that well yet.
Which of the other Avontuur stallions really take your fancy? They only have Var at the moment but Oratorio is on his way there and he sure will be an exciting stallion for South African racing.
Do you think it is necessary for all jockeys to be sponsored? Of course! Not only does every penny count but the more people you deal with the more doors open!!