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A Dream Job

Eating snails - part of the French experience

Former Soweto schoolboy and promising SAJA third-year apprentice Kabelo Matsunyane is still pinching himself after jetting in from Paris on Tuesday afternoon following his second overseas excursion in just over a year.

The second round of the SA Jockey Academy recruitment drive for their 2020 intake commences at Kenilworth on Friday and in young men like Kabelo, the world renowed jockey training institution have mobile billboards at their ready disposal that speak louder than any promotional video or costly Sunday newspaper advertisement.

The personable Kabelo, who has a noticeably mature diplomatic tact about the way he responds to our questions, grew up in Soweto and says that if anybody had told him three years ago that he would have visited England and France in 2018 and 2019, he would never have believed it. Becoming a jockey has been a life-changing passport to a new world – literally.

In 2018 he and best mate Nathan Klink attended the British Racing School for three weeks, to complete the International Apprentice Course at the British Racing School campus in Newmarket.

Kabelo Matsunyane (photo: SAJA)

Kabelo Matsunyane (photo: SAJA)

“I’m living a dream I never even knew existed,” he tells us shortly after returning via Emirates Air from the sixth renewal of the Prix Longines Future Racing Stars, which was held at the picturesque Chantilly Racecourse about 50 km north of Paris.

Kabelo, or ‘Jap’ as he is known affectionately, only managed a fourth placed finish aboard  Egeria, trained by Christophe Plisson, in the Future Racing Handicap after his other mount was scratched – but he says it was an experience he will never forget.

Before he goes on to talk about his one and only ride on French soil, we ask him to explain the ‘Jap’ tag.

“I was brand new and having one of my first rides. I think it was Raymond Danielson who walked into the jockey room and looked at the names on the board. He asked – ‘who is Matsunyane?’ in a really bad pronounciation of my surname. Raymond added – ‘is he Japanese?’. Since then ‘Jap’ sort of stuck,” he laughs.

The excited Kabelo said that besides being located in an extraordinarily beautiful part of the French countryside,  Chantilly was an interesting racecourse with a downhill and an uphill.

“I can’t think of any racecourse I have ridden on here that compares with the variation in gradient. It’s a fascinating tactical track. I can say too that they go much quicker than we tend to do here. They sure gallop from the start!” he adds.

After a welcome dinner on Thursday evening, Kabelo says they were assigned a trainer and rode work on Friday morning.

“We had a fantastic wine and cheese tasting on Friday evening. It was really a wonderfully informative and social experience.”

On Saturday morning he rode work again and then enjoyed a free afternoon.

“I travelled to Paris with Mr & Mrs Moore and visited some of the historical landmarks like the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre. There wasn’t a lot of time but we soaked up the atmosphere. I’d love to go back some time soon. “

Sunday was raceday. Kabelo tells of the vibe on course and the cordiality in the jockey room.

“There is a lot of camaraderie here at home and even at Chantilly, despite the language barriers, everybody was so warm and friendly. I really got on well with the Australian apprentice Thomas Stockdale and also the British guys. It’s good to have a network. One never knows where life takes us in the future!”

Of his unique experiences, beyond the racing, Kabelo says he tried the local delicacy of snails – or escargot.

“It was really tasty. I enjoy new challenges and what’s the point of discovering different cultures and lifestyles without participating in the experience. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the SA Jockey Academy and everybody involved. I have been blessed with wonderful opportunities.And I have only been in the racing industry for five minutes!”

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