JR Tells How He Kept His Cool

Big day for young Jeffrey Robert Syster!

A first time ride is a harrowing and nerve wracking experience for any young apprentice.

When it’s for one of the world’s greatest jockeys on a premier Gr1 day on the calendar, there is the added element of expectation, big betting turnovers, public pressure and the best of all disciplines.

Muzi Yeni has no answers as Jeff Syster flies past on Kingsmead to win the Pick 6 opener (Pic – Candiese Marnewick)

On Sunday, greenhorn apprentice Jeffrey Robert Syster – aka ‘Jeff’ or, as we suggested, ‘JR’ – was still walking on air trying to digest his big day at Scottsville on Saturday.

Trying to work out how he had kept his head, nervously shouted at senior jockeys as he spied a gap – and suddenly saw the winning post appear like an oasis after days without water in the desert!

That, despite the absence of any silverware for his knockout win at his first ever ride aboard the Muis Roberts trained Kingsmead in the Pick 6 opener, a humble MR 82 Handicap.

He woke up on Saturday morning feeling excited, and only a little nervous – but pumped up for the trip up the N3 in the Academy bus to Scottsville to commence the next step in his career.

That first ride normally entails staying aboard, staying balanced, staying out of trouble and enjoying the experience. But young JR did it differently.

“I have been riding work for Mr Roberts at Summerveld. I was cantering Kingsmead and doing some pace work. I knew he was in the nominations for Saturday. On Monday last week, I felt a bit like Oliver Twist – slightly cheeky– I asked him if I could possibly have the ride on Kingsmead. He looked at me and said he would discuss it with the owner. I wasn’t too confident but just prayed that I would get lucky,” he told the Sporting Post.

Tuesday 21 May was Jeff’s 22nd birthday. He went to work as usual, took the good wishes calls from his family and friends, and then settled down to enjoy his day.

It was on looking at the final fields sheet when he realised he had been given the nod by Michael Roberts.

“I couldn’t believe my luck. My birthday. And my first ride confirmed. What a present. I thought – now the serious stuff starts!”

Dr  Nic Labuschagne and Shirley Koster lead Kingsmead in with a proud Jeff Syster in the saddle (Pic – Candiese Marnewick)

Jeff explained how Kingsmead was loping behind the field of eleven, when his mount suddenly started tightening up.

“I felt that he was going really well at about the 350m. With his momentum building and the field coming back to me, I thought I really needed to find a gap or we could be running on to heels. I then switched him, gave him one light smack down the shoulder and shouted ‘I’m coming through’. I said that a few times – we are trained to do it and naturally it has to be loud – but I felt a bit awkward riding against these senior top jockeys and shouting. So I think it may have had a slightly polite ring to it! I recall Warren Kennedy turning and acknowledging me.”

He continues and says that he saw Muzi Yeni and Anton Marcus to his left and all the time Kingsmead was responding beautifully.

“As we hit the winning line I was quite overwhelmed –  I heard the shouts from the crowd for Muzi and thought he may have got it. But as I pulled up and trotted back the whole world went quiet. I then realised I got it. I just wanted to scream for joy. I couldn’t believe it!”

Jeff was full of praise for his family’s encouragement, as well as the help and support that he had received from trainer Michael Roberts, and riding masters Paddy Wynne and Stephen Jupp at the academy.

Read Jeff’s full story in the SP Weekender #2569 – available from Wednesday

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