How does a top professional sportsman cope with the mental challenge of weeks of inactivity during a peak season?
A cocktail of a philosophical attitude, family commitments, and even some travel, are the tonic, suggests our greatest jockey of all time.
Six- time South African champion jockey Piere Strydom will be out of action for possibly six weeks following a freak snap of his stirrup iron at the Vaal a week ago.
In an exclusive chat with the Sporting Post Digest on Thursday morning, an audibly disappointed Striker confirmed the terrible setback.
“I heard on Wednesday evening that I will be off for 4-6 weeks. It was always suspected to be an old injury. But the fracture is outside of the vertebrae and serves as a support structure. The real danger lies in me having another fall before it fully heals. So the Doctors have issued their orders and that’s it,” he said glumly.
Piere says he has ‘been down this road before’ and said that a jockey needed to be philosophical and take the unforeseen happenings on the chin, as there are so many things that can go wrong in race-riding.
“Nobody is at fault. I have spoken before about getting on the wrong horse at the wrong time and that is exactly what happened to me last Thursday. They jumped out the gates and I thought Refuge had jumped a little skew. That can cause one’s foot to come out of the stirrup iron, but most of the time you get it back inside in a matter of strides and start riding. This time I was quite amazed that I fell off in such an easy manner. But I only learnt later that my stirrup iron had snapped. We often have to replace our equipment through wear and tear – but how do you judge, if something is made of steel, where and when it is going to break?”
At the age of 51, Strydom is our most prolific winning rider of all time. But we asked if it was tougher coming back every time with father time breathing down one’s back?
“Look, I haven’t really noticed that it is ‘tougher’, as such. I have always maintained my fitness levels and looked after my body. I suppose age must be a factor. But Jeff Lloyd is still going strong at 56 – and what about that Aussie jockey that stopped riding at the age of 70 last week!”
In an interview conducted with Turf Talk recently, there were suggestions of a ‘conspiracy’ or a figurative boycott of the great jockey.
Piere laughed at that suggestion.
“Racing is all about cycles. The wheel turns all the time. There are flavours every month. Yes it was getting tougher and I haven’t been getting the quality of rides that allow me to maintain a pretty strike-rate. It is also true that my mounts often have false prices attached to them by the Bookies. So the snowball gathers momentum – people are saying he’s lost it – he isn’t riding well – as youu know, perceptions grow legs in this game! But they need to look at what I am riding first maybe.”
And does work riding, or the lack of it, contribute in any way to support from different yards?
“I haven’t ever ridden much work. But I’ve had to look after my knees after 40. If I am to ride for another five years I cannot be riding at the tracks in the morning and in races during the day. My knees just don’t have that mileage.”
He adds that, ironically, since the article was published, he has had plenty of calls and offers to ride.
“I am not finished yet! I have had plenty of offers to ride. And I say with determination that I will be riding in the July this year.”
Taxed on who he may be partnering in Africa’s greatest race, Piere says that he has the option of Surcharge or Abashiri.
Surcharge was runner-up in all three legs of the SA Triple Crown, while Abashiri – the 2016 SA Triple Crown winner – showed a welcome form return in the Premier’s Champions Challenge recently.
Piere rode his first July winner in 1996 on London News and his most recent in 2016 on The Conglomerate. He is keen to get number five on his CV.
“This injury doesn’t have me confined to bed. I am still mobile. I can drive and do the household chores. I just won’t be parachuting or scrumming down for the Lions for the next four weeks! But I will be working on maintaining my fitness levels and am looking forward to riding on 7 July. Don’t make the mistake of writing me off yet!” he laughed.
Just like ol’ man river – he keeps on rollin’ along!