International Challenge for Apprentice

JP van de Merwe

In response to an invitation by the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) in Australia, apprentice Juan Paul van der Merwe will be representing South Africa and the South African Jockey Academy (SAJA) in the prestigious 2011 Asian Young Guns Challenge at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne Australia on Saturday 6 August. His chaperone will be Rhys van Wyk, head riding master at SAJA.

This is the first time a South African apprentice jockey will compete in this event and his inclusion will automatically open the door for South Africa to one day host the Asian Young Guns Challenge.

Van der Merwe is in his fifth year of being apprenticed to SAJA and is based at the Gauteng Jockeys’ Academy in Gauteng.

His participation is sure to be eagerly anticipated in Australia due to the fine reputation SAJA has around the world.

SAJA which forms part of the Summerveld Training Centre situated in KwaZulu-Natal has been providing education and training to apprentice jockeys since 1958.

Since 1972 every South African champion jockey has been a graduate of SAJA, beginning with Michael Roberts, who was an eleven times South African Champion and is one of the few foreigners in history to have won the British Jockey Championship.

Other outstanding champion jockeys trained at SAJA include Basil Marcus, Douglas Whyte, Mark Khan, Felix Coetzee, Jeffrey Lloyd, Piere Strydom, Robbie Fradd, Anthony Delpech to name but a few.

During the past 52 years of its existence the Academy has produced a total of 41 international championship jockeys in the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and Mauritius.

Van der Merwe, who has been compared by some to the great Piere Strydom due to his outstanding balance and riding seat, had ridden 164 winners and 483 places in 1,750 rides up until June 30 this year.  He was nominated as Champion Apprentice for Gauteng Province for 2009/10 and elect for 2010/11.  He also stands a big chance of being elected as South African Champion Apprentice for 2010/11

He will arrive a few days before the event in Australia and is in for an exciting time, for apart from riding in three races at Flemington the itinerary also includes a visit to Darley Stud, watching a game of Australian Rules football and a visit to the Melbourne Zoo.

The Challenge features eight apprentice jockeys from seven different countries.

The two Australians competing are James Noonan and Jordan Mallyon, both from Victoria, and there is also Vincent Ho from Hong Kong, Cash Wong from Macau, Ryo Takakura from Japan, Rizuan Shafiq from Singapore, James McDonald from New Zealand and van der Merwe.

The Asian Young Guns Challenge, as a concept, was conceived in January 2009 by then VRC Chairman, Mr. Rod Fitzroy.

It was designed to provide a platform for a racing and competition opportunity, at Flemington, to leading apprentices from Asia and Victoria, with a form of overseas reciprocity for Victorian apprentices attached.

The concept was based on a desire to provide a cultural exchange between racing’s leaders of tomorrow, which would strengthen the friendly relationship that Australian racing enjoys with its Asian neighbours.

After being endorsed by the VRC Board in February 2009, the concept was favourably received by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Singapore Turf Club and Japan Racing Association, while in Australia it  enjoyed the support of both Racing Victoria Ltd and the Victorian Jockeys Association.

The 2009 Challenge was conducted at a VRC race meeting at Flemington Racecourse on Saturday 8 August, across the first three races on the program.

It received a good deal of positive media coverage and was an instant success.

In 2010 the Singapore Turf Club conducted a three race apprentices Challenge at Kranji on Sunday 18 July.  Two riders from Victoria took part, alongside apprentices from Singapore, Japan, Macau, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

The 2011 challenge will also be over three races, each carrying a stake of Aus$70,000, and the riders will receive 5% of any prize money won together with the normal riding fee.

Racing Victoria Stewards will allocate mounts to Asian Young Guns riders on a random rotational basis, from the top eight weighted horses in each race, while any remaining horses in the field will be ridden by other available local apprentices, who will not compete for points.

The points system is 25 points for first, 15 for second, 10 for third, seven for fourth, five for fifth, three for sixth, two for seventh and one for eighth. If any horse is scratched and a replacement is not available, the effected rider will be allotted six points. The winning apprentice will also receive a trophy.

This is an exciting opportunity for a South African apprentice to be represented in an event of this calibre said SAJA headmaster, Graham Bailey. This event will provide Juan Paul, the South African Jockey Academy and South Africa with fantastic international exposure. SAJA wishes Juan Paul all the best and we hope he brings back the trophy.

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