It did not cross MJ Byleveld’s mind in the final furlong of the Sun Met on Saturday that he was locked in battle with the jockey rated the best in the world, Ryan Moore, and he humbly gave all credit for the win to the bravery of his horse, the Vaughan Marshall-trained One World, although he did admit he could not resist a “chirp” to Moore later.
Byleveld said, “If you are on the right horse, it doesn’t matter who you are. I never think about who I am up against, I just concentrate on getting my horse in the right place at the right time. But I guess if you want to be the best you have to take on the best and the opposition is always strong.”
It was a thing of beauty for Rainbow Bridge’s fans to see Moore sitting motionless in the straight tracking Head Honcho. One World had joined the latter on his inside, but was already being niggled at.
Earlier, Moore had been swinging on the bridle in a clear third place as the front three raced in single file.
When Moore switched the powerfully built defending champion out at the 400m mark it looked to be race over.
However, this view did not account for the immense courage of One World, Any stamina doubts were soon to be dispelled too.
Byleveld said, “My horse loves a fight, I have won on him like that before. When they come to challenge he digs down deep, wow, he has a big heart.”
It was revealed afterwards that rugby fanatic Byleveld had worn a pair of Faf de Klerk-brand underpants.
Byleveld said, “My girl friend gave them to me for Christmas and funnily enough the first time I wore them was the day I rode the Jackpot!”
He added, “I said later to Ryan Moore, how did you like watching the South African flag for a whole circuit of Kenilworth! It was all good fun banter.”
Byleveld downplayed the part he played in the win, which was to position the horse perfectly from a wide draw and then keep him going in the stirring finish.
He said, “All the credit must go the horse. I just had to put him in the right position and follow the plan. From the draw I was always going to race him up handy, I wasn’t going to sit. I thought there would be a bit of a pace and he has good gate-speed. It worked out really well.”
One World joined Rainbow Bridge in second place in the early stages and Moore allowed Byleveld to slot in in front of him.
Moore had no doubt watched the video of the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate where Rainbow Bridge had become involved in a head-to-head pulling duel with Hawwaam for about three furlongs. He had cover this time but the ideal scenario was for his mount to race on his own. Moore might also have identified One World as a horse he would have the measure of later on.
Byleveld was strong and rhythmical in the finish and did not panic at any stage.
He understated, “My job was just to keep him concentrating and going straight.”
He did however admit that being pain free after a recent neck operation had made a big difference to his riding this season.
For about a year after a serious fall at Greyville he had felt something had been amiss.
He said, “Your brain controls your body. When it is telling you there is something that is not quite right you naturally hold back. You are freer when you are not riding with any pain.”
Byleveld regarded it as the greatest day of his career and in an emotional post race interview with Andrew Bon he thanked Vaughan Marshall and his parents for their unwavering support and also thanked the owners of One World, Etienne Braune, Ken and Jane Truter and Braam van Huysteen.
He said, “I had gone close in the Met on Hill Fifty Four (2013), who then won under Anton Marcus the next year, and then had the July taken away (Wylie Hall 2014), and we then went close in the Queen’s Plate this year, so it has been frustrating.”
He continued, “Mr Marshall is a pleasure to work for. He is an absolute gentleman and right is right and wrong is wrong, He is straightforward, there is no bull, and we seem to work nicely together.”
He added, “My parents have always been my biggest supporters and my Dad doesn’t miss a race.”
MJ’s path to Saturday’s glory began one day at a cattle show. His father was a cattle salesman and a friend of his who had owned horses looked at his son and recommended he apply to the SA Jockeys Academy.
One World is still a colt and will be retired now to stand on the farm of his breeder, Klawervlei Stud.
It is said that freak ability is unlikely to be passed on by a stallion to future generations, whereas courage is one asset which can be. This sentiment is accredited to the great Vincent O’Brien who was impressed by Northern Dancer’s record in which he had never won any of his 14 races by far and thus identified him as a sire to concentrate on. Northern Dancer went on to become probably the most influential sire in the history of the thoroughbred.
One World showed just how much courage he has on Saturday. His record also attests to it. He has run in 14 races for ten wins three seconds and a third.
Saturday’s race would likely have taken a lot out of him and he has little left to prove.