Mpumelelo Mjoka is the latest SA Jockey Academy apprentice to excel at the annual Longines Future Racing Stars event at the annual Prix de Diane meeting at Chantilly.
Mjoka joined apprentices from Australia, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Morocco and Turkey in the EUR22,000 handicap over 1600m, steering the Danny de Waele-trained Beaupreau to a 1.14 length victory in a time of 1min 39.87 on Saturday, 17 June 2017.
The SA team, made up of Mpume, Riding Master Robert Moore and Academy Principal Graham Bailey, flew out on Wednesday, 14 June, arriving in France on Thursday morning. After getting settled in Chantilly, Mpume had the opportunity of riding out with the Cedric Boutin string and then it was on to the Prix de Diane meeting on Saturday.
Mpume talked us through the experience. “I rode work on Friday morning. Their tracks are totally different compared to ours. They’re all natural and it’s basically like riding in a beautiful forest – it was amazing!”
“My day went quite well. I rode for Mr de Waele whose instructions were to try and sit handy if I could. I said that I was drawn wide so would do my best, but if I can’t I said I might as well drop it out. As it happened, we jumped from the stalls and I couldn’t get in and ended up sitting last. I sat as long as I could, and then went through the field. The horse gave me a good kick and won a good race.” He was particularly pleased with the effort as he had been riding a maiden against 1-time winners. “He won an interesting race,” he says proudly.
Asked about the Chantilly facilities, he said, “The course is just amazing. It’s a pity we didn’t get to race on the grass, but the experience of riding over there is something you just can’t forget.”
Mpume, who is a fourth year apprentice, hails from Durban and was recruited at the Ganges Secondary School by SAJA’s former marketing manager, Charles Grey. “I am so tiny, I don’t know how he spotted me in the crowd. He said he liked my height and put me on the scale – at the time I weighed about 43kgs – and said that I had the potential to become a jockey. At the time I hadn’t been within two feet of a horse and didn’t know anything about them, so I went home and researched it. I’d seen an advert about S’manga when he won the Vodacom Durban July and talked to my family about it. They were very supportive and said if I want to do it, I should give it a try so I did. I went to the Academy and did a few interviews and it all worked out according to plan.” Asked whether he’s enjoying it so far, he answers immediately, “I’m loving it. It’s funny how the horses grow on you.”
In terms of being selected for this year’s Longines Future Racing Stars event, he says, “To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be selected for something like this. They had all the apprentices from across the country to choose from and I was sure they’d probably choose someone like Lyle, so to be selected was actually quite amazing. I was very excited. It’s my first time travelling abroad, so I was thrilled and to win a huge event like this was just a bonus.” Has the experienced inspired him about his future? “It’s something I’ll always have to look back on to help keep me going through those tough times. It’s something I’ll never forget.”