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Grant van Niekerk – ‘I Had No Choice’

'It was an awful race'

Cape-based jockey Grant van Niekerk, who takes up a contract in Hong Kong next season, says that his mount had already clipped heels twice and that he really had no alternative but to take the favourite African Night Sky up to lead in Saturday’s Vodacom Durban July.

Grant van Niekerk – explains his move

“He is a top horse and has an exceptional turn of foot off a pace,” the 27 year old Van Niekerk told the Sporting Post in an exclusive interview after returning to Cape Town following one of the biggest disappointments in his ten year long career to date.

“I always had concerns about the lack of pace and it turned into an absolute joke for the first half of the race. Nobody was willing to commit. African Night Sky likes to relax when they go at a reasonable clip. He was fighting me. He simply never settled. My arms were burning. I almost came down after clipping heels twice. I made the only decision I could at the time – which was to go around them and take it up and get him to relax.”

Van Niekerk says that had he stayed where he was, he could have endangered other horses and African Night Sky would have simply used up all of his energy reserves and fallen in a hole.

And then he would have probably been castigated for not using his initiative!

“I hung on to him for 800m. We were going absolutely nowhere fast. I considered going around.  Then held on. I considered it again. And held on. It was no split second rush of blood in the end. I did what I did with forethought to give my horse the only chance I believed he would have, in what was developing into an awful race. I thought I would let him settle and bowl and make the most of a bad situation – and then go for home. But my stablemate Made To Conquer challenged and went with me. So he stretched me further. In the end African Night Sky ran his heart out to finish fifth. Had he won I would have been a hero. But that’s racing. We learn to take the rough with the smooth.”

Grant wins the Cup Trial on African Night Sky

Van Niekerk said that he had also learnt in a short time in the saddle to accept constructive criticism but not to let illogical things get to him.

“He was the favourite in one of our great races. There was a weight of public money on him. I was riding for a top stable. For a top owner. Every jockey in the race wanted to stand where Anton Marcus stood afterwards. The massive prestige. The huge stake. My family were all rooting for me. If anybody suggests there was skulduggery, then that is not even worth responding to,”he said.

He added that he felt that he was on the likely winner had there been a true pace.

“Mr Fred Crabbia and the Snaiths were disappointed afterwards. I really felt so down for us all,”he said.

Grant flies out with Callan Murray on 4 August for a new adventure in Hong Kong.

We asked if he was nervous about riding abroad.

“I am more excited than nervous. This is an important step in my career. I need to work hard and apply myself,” he said, confirming that his partner and two young children would be following him later.

Ed – The Stipes Reported:

In a slow run race CORAL FEVER (M Yeni), MATADOR MAN (S Khumalo), YAKEEN (AUS) (R Simons) and AFRICAN NIGHT SKY (G van Niekerk) were pulling hard and were difficult to restrain and AFRICAN NIGHT SKY (G van Niekerk) raced to the front of the field approaching the 1000 metre mark

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20 comments on “Grant van Niekerk – ‘I Had No Choice’

  1. Mike O says:

    The geniuses on the panel who decides who make the final field should take their share of blame for the mess. Including horses like Star Express, Gold Standard and White River who are all milers at best and certainly not proven over any distance close to 2200m. Bowing to the propaganda spewed out by their respected yard’s lobbyists just show their incompetence.

    Had they included horses like Crowd Pleaser, Head Honco or Pack Leader, the race would have been much fairer.

    Not great riding by Mr. van Niekerk though, with no help form stable companions

  2. Kay says:

    I know this is far fetched, just a thought…….!
    Trainers train for various owners so it’s difficult to expect them to use a particular horse as the hare unless it’s the same owner. An alternative could be the Racing Operator (Gold Circle or Phumelela) offering to pay an owner of a strong front runner to race as a pace maker to set a strong pace. So the final field of 18 will be 16 horses on merit and 2 as pace makers, with reserve runners both on merit and as pace makers. This will take away a berth or two in the race but at least will ensure a true run race, Now onwards to the Gold Cup meeting.

  3. Kevin G says:

    Star Express had no chance … Snaith should have ensured Star Express set the pace for his other runners .. Grant is a top rider .

  4. Robert says:

    Hi Mike how many winners have you ridden

  5. Brian says:

    Fully agree. Its a 2,2 race and a horse that’s never raced the distance gets in ahead of good horses that have.
    The July has become a farce and its the third year in a row I haven’t watched the race

  6. Brian says:

    There has been many a time when a pacemaker was entered. I won’t knock Snaith for not doing it but it does seem strange

    Be interesting to hear from him though Ed

  7. Mahen says:

    At what point in the race did Abashiri go wrong, was it from start as he immediately went to the back of the field from the jump. He would have won had he been at the front end of the field and striker would have ensured his own pace and left them at the beginning of the straight. Sad to see a champion retire the way that he did. I am curious to know if striker felt something amiss from the jump.

    1. Editor says:

      From the Stipes Report:
      Jockey P Strydom the rider of ABASHIRI (77.55 lengths) reported that he felt something amiss with this gelding at approximately the 100 metre mark and immediately eased his mount out of the race. The Veterinary Surgeon was requested to examine this gelding.

  8. Mahen says:

    Striker is in a league of his own and if due to his own doing he allowed Abashiri to settle at the back of the field then that was a bad ride even if the horse didn’t finish the race, He had unfortunately not been given best of horses to ride recently gave the impression that he wasnt riding well which is not at all true. I hope this, if it was him that settled Abashiri at the back of the field, does not impact his riding arrangements with the Azzie stable as they were giving him some good horses to ride recently (Paul Peter included).

  9. Sarvan says:

    There is an arm chair critic on Winning Ways who has an opinion on everything who did Van Niekerk no favours in the build up to the race either. He is probably revelling in the Schadenfreude as Van Niekerk didn’t win the race but such is racing, full of naysayers and people who bring down others…..perhaps tactics but it didn’t work as his own horse proved in the run how lucky he was to get in the field, in the first place. Perhaps maybe some humble pie will be eaten but no chance I suspect. :). It’s easy to talk afterwards but let’s just enjoy the great race, good luck and best wishes to the winner. Well done.

  10. s1 says:

    I have to agree with Grant, had a won the race, then everyone would have said ‘what a ride’.
    If one watches the race, you will see even matador man was up front, not his style.
    Also we can sit as arm chair critics, but grant was riding in a real race with real dangers.
    So hats off to him.
    It didnt work out but thats life.
    I have seen short priced horses losing

  11. Brian says:

    Everyone who has made comments in respect of this subject has valid input none of which should be discarded.

    Having not watched a July since it was on the old Greyville track for some years and then watching it on the new layout there is no ways the current rack can accommodate all the horses entered.

    I would suggest less is more but that won’t fly in the face of greed ill it?

  12. Mahen says:

    well arrest my case on my previous comment. I see all Azzie runners are ridden by Lyle over coming weekend though Strydom rode them previously especially Arctica. This is a weird industry.

  13. Rian says:

    Never had many false run races with Mr Millard around
    Again congrats to the winners and those jockeys who read the race and deseve all the accolades
    And not to forget the only winners on the day again ……… THE BOOKMAKERS………
    When will the mugs learn ????

  14. Joe2 says:

    Kay : you have a fantastic idea.

  15. Dino says:

    Not a nice thing to say but Grant no excuses please. If you are a top rider then you could see the race weeks before you put your foot up Marcus was in the same predicament however he proved what world class jockeys can do.
    You pulled the trigger too late on Marinaresco.
    It took Bernard to do the job properly.
    Will you ever learn.


  16. Vivian says:

    I have learnt long time ago, that when a big race is run, always follow the “bracketed” horses. Because those are the trainers who will set the pace to suite their horses. They are not in the business to set the pace for other horses. Well done to the Snaith stable. The race was run according to Snaiths” instructions. Each and every horse ( x 5) went according to the instructions and don’t be fooled by African Night Sky run. Grant ran it the way he was suppose to!!!
    Pity they missed the quartet. Instructions would have been perfect.


  17. Graham Hurlstone-Jones says:

    Thats how I saw it….Snaith v the 3 year olds…….I could smell a Millard with the class of horse they had ( what an amazing ride by Loyd !! )……..The quartet was the bet of the year if you played with those horses only. Tabonline totally ruined my “good day” as I had moved money into my account and the system shut down 2 hours before…….Joke of the year ( not funny anymore, they are killing the game quickly ) ). It did pan out well, i really wanted African NS to run well but I have been at the coal face of a really good horse running really badly in a feature with said jockey but AFS did finish a heroic fifth, sometimes the mind does go dark and you ask dark questions because it all went dark.

  18. Dennis says:

    All after race merchants

  19. Vish says:

    Why only in SA racing does races get delayed because horses jumpstart the pen before the races…Only in SA

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