Friday, 30 March 2018 turned into a very good Friday for third year apprentice rider Jason Gates, who notched the first double of his fledgling career at Greyville.
The first was aboard Sky Vegas in race 3, a 1400m maiden plate for the Alyson Wright yard which he won by 1.5 lengths. The second came just two races later when he brought Go With Flo home by 0.5 length for Michael Roberts.
The young rider, who has caught the eye with his composed, economical riding style was understandably over the moon with the achievement. Asked to talk us through his rides, he relates that Sky Vegas works really well at home. “The first time I rode him at track, I couldn’t believe he was still a maiden.” Although Jason adopted front-running tactics with Sky Vegas, he confirms it was not just the classic case of using his claim. “He does like to be up there. We were drawn 9 from 9, so I had to squeeze a tiny bit to get to the front and then eased to give him a breather, before asking him to skip in the straight again.”
He was back in the winner’s enclosure after a beautiful, ground-saving ride on the Michael Roberts-trained Go With Flo. “She’s a bit nervous and was sweating up and sticking up on the way to the pens. I watched her last race and noticed she’d been slow away, so I was prepared. Although she didn’t ping out of the gates, she was quick enough this time. Into the straight, everyone pulled to the fence, which worked to my advantage as I could just go straight through the middle. I popped the question and she quickened really well. When she did that, I thought ‘I’ve got this.’ We had a good lead and I’d actually put away my stick, but then looked up at the big screen and saw Anton on my outside, quickly pulled my stick again and she finished off nicely. It was a good race, especially against the boys.”
There have been lots of support and well wishes on his achievement. “Everyone said I rode a very good race and I was quite chuffed with myself. My mom was a bit upset – I never told them I was racing on Friday and when I rang to tell them she was cross with me at first, but then said she’s very happy for me,” he chuckles.
Eighteen year old Jason was born in Pretoria and grew up in Johannesburg. He’s currently in his third year at the Academy and due to sit his matric exams later this year.
Not from a racing or horsey background, Jason says he didn’t know what a jockey was until a guy at their local butchery took to teasing him about his height and telling his mother he should be a jockey. “Eventually I went and looked it up and told my mom it was something I would like to try, so I applied and got in quite easily.”
Jason is a big sports fan, excelling at rugby, cross country, wrestling (which he has earned medals for) and swimming, so it’s not surprising that he has broken all the Jockey Academy gym records. He is also excelling academically, finishing top of the class since he joined. But what he loves most are the horses. “Before the Academy I’d never sat on a horse, but I’m quite a fearless person and it didn’t bother me. Instead of being scared, I found it exciting. And that’s what I enjoy the most – going to track and working with the horses. They’ve climbed inside my heart quite deeply.”
Jason’s first ride under rules came courtesy of Lowan Denysschen and Little Miss Jet at Scottsville on 16 April 2017 and he was just getting into the swing of things when he sustained an injury, benching him for 2 months. “It was a bit difficult trying to get rides and getting people to use me again, but we got there.”
He registered his first career winner aboard Samar at the Vaal for Craig Mayhew, coming home nearly 6 lengths clear in December 2017. “After that, it was Christmas holidays and when I came back, I started riding a lot of work for Mr & Mrs Wright and eventually Mr Roy popped up, carrying a lot of weight. With my claim 4, they offered me the ride and we won! I’d have to say he was probably my best ride up to that point. He was very straightforward, he had a good draw and all I had to do was ride him out properly,” he says honestly.
Jason is from a large family and is one of 10 children, including twin older brothers, an assortment of half brothers and a sister and adopted twins, who are still babies. It takes a strong woman to manage and raise that many children and Jason agrees. “My mom’s the best. Everything I ever wanted to try, she’s been there to help me out. When I said I wanted to be a jockey, she was very supportive and she’s been behind me all the way.” In addition to his immediate family, Jason’s next biggest fan is his grandmother, who he lived with for two years before joining the Academy and who is also a big support.
He has taught himself to play the guitar and the piano and his love for animals of all kinds has earned him the rather unusual nickname of Snakey. “I was playing with a snake I found and it bit me. I didn’t want to get booked off, so I didn’t tell anyone. When I woke up the next morning, my face was pale, my lips were cracked and I ended up getting booked off for a week. After that, everyone started calling me Snakey,” he says sheepishly.
While acknowledging that the Academy is tough, he says, “As a jockey you need to go through it. It builds character,” adding that the punishing schedule of riding and schooling comes in useful at times. “I’m very active and don’t get lazy very quickly. Where other people come back and might want to go to bed, I’m usually the one to stay up and when I have free time, instead of sleeping, I’d rather be out, trying to improve things and do better. I’m always the one to push a little further, to do better – at end of day, it’s only going to help.”
He is very appreciative of his riding masters as well as Kevin Wright who has given valuable input in the mornings. Asked whether he has any role models, he chooses Lyle Hewitson, who he singled out for a mention after his very first win. “He’s still an apprentice, I know, but he’s inspired me so much. Lyle and I started at the Academy on the exact same day. He was a really good rider right from the start, he’s helped me a lot. Even at track, if he noticed something he thought I could improve on, he’s always willing to help.” He also looks up to Gunter Wrogemann, whose kit he does, Richard Fourie, whose kit he does during Champions Season, as well as Piere Strydom.
Jason is also looking forward to riding Go With Flo again on 6th April and is booked to ride the Michael Roberts’ trained Muscatt in a 1100m Pinnacle Plate on the 8th. “He ran 4th last time out drawn 10, but he’s now drawn 1. He’s weighted to carry 61.5kgs, but with the claim 4, should be in with a chance.”
With his slight stature, Jason is a natural lightweight and with his 4kg allowance, comfortably rides at 48kgs. He is a well-mannered, highly motivated and focussed young man with everything in his favour to make it in one of the world’s toughest professions. As Alyson Wright said in Friday’s post race commentary: “He’s got a future.”
Watch this space.