Our Hollywoodbets Durban July JP – What A Boykie!

Life is all about balance - and JP is loving it

Life’s all about balance and almost 16 years after riding his first winner for trainer Bennet Bulana at Clairwood Park, JP van der Merwe is living the dream.

He’s ridden as many Grade 1 winners this season as record-breaking SA Champion elect Richard Fourie, and has hardly left his adoptive hometown.

Oriental Charm and JP van der Merwe in the pre-race parade (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

JP’s late call-up for Alec Laird eight years ago to partner the J&B Met heroine Smart Call and his Singapore stint are the highs and lows of a career that hit a dazzling new peak shortly after 16h00 last Saturday.

“We don’t own any of the highs. And the lows are school fees,” quips JP, as he pays tribute to his colleague Richard Fourie, who has set the bar this season by smashing Anthony Delpech’s season record mark.

“I think the entire SA jockey community is in admiration of Richard. It’s no fun living out of a suitcase and sitting on a plane day in and day out. I don’t know how he did it. I remind myself every day how fortunate I am, in terms of quality of family life – and I don’t think I could ever adjust to anything like what Richard just did,” reflects the man who can’t believe that he hasn’t been a Stormers supporter all his life.

JP enjoys the moment as his wife Abbi smiles for the photographer (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

Happily resident with his wife Abbi and much loved daughter Valentyna at Woodbridge Island within a stone’s throw of the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean, the Joburg born 2024 Hollywoodbets Durban July champion jockey has found the near perfect balance between family life and professional commitment – and that when he really wasn’t even looking for it.

Talking to the Sporting Post four days after his career defining front-running ride on Oriental Charm on Saturday, and in the midst of the turmoil of the dreadful winter storm that has ravaged the Cape, the uber relaxed JP, the man some of his colleagues call ‘Juan Paul van Damme’, reflected how things ‘sometimes just happen in life’.

The 33 year old – he suggests with a boyish grin that he’s actually 30 – tells how he was contracted by Cape Racing boss Greg Bortz in December as a retained rider.  The rest, as we love to say, is history. But JP takes up the story.

A confident looking JP (front row, far left) gazes skywards as the Hollywoodbets Durban July jockey class of ’24 is introduced (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

“When Mr Bortz offered me the chance, the decision to move to the fairest Cape was not the challenge – it was the fact that I was required to not travel and focus on the local race and work-riding commitments. I was granted one exception – that was the now exported Gimme A Nother. Hell, nobody has given up a Grade 1 winning champion ride with Mr Mike de Kock, ever! So I appreciated the concession by Mr Bortz. Five Grade 1 winners later, I am starting to feel like I made the best decision of my life!” he smiles.

History inexorably underscores JP’s decision –  he won the Hollywoodbets Gr1 Cape Guineas on Snow Pilot withing weeks of signing on the dotted line. Then came the Cartier Gr1 Paddock Stakes on Beach Bomb, the Wilgerbosdrift Gr1 SA Classic and the TAB Gr1 Empress Club Stakes on the unbeaten Gimme A Nother. Oh, and then Grade 1 number 5 just happen to come along when Oriental Charm won the Hollywoodbets Durban July on Saturday.

“Somebody called it serendipity. That’s a big word – but I mean riding my first Hollywoodbets Durban July winner for a leading owner who changed my life! I cannot thank Mr Bortz, Gina Goldsmith and Mr Leon Ellman enough for the opportunity. And Brett Crawford and his team. What a great job with a real ‘boykie’ – a fighter of a horse!”

JP hugs Gina as Greg looks on (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

JP gets animated as he tells that it ‘worked out perfectly’.

“We had just the 53kgs on the back. I went out there and he was enjoying it. And even when Flag Man went past us about the 300m marker. I counted to 3, and then asked Oriental Charm for more. He put his head down and went to fetch him. Yes, he lugged in looking for company. But he was going so well! And then just before the line I got a sense of the challenge down my inside. I didn’t realise there were two coming for us. I put my head down and rode for the line – Oriental Charm was the real hero!”

JP got 16 days for interference caused in the latter stages. Piere Strydom, who rode See It Again, the ultimate ‘victim’ of the movement by the eventual winner, told the Sporting Post earlier this week that he, and any jockey in that position, would, he believes, have done no differently to what JP had.

Durban’s beautiful blue skies are a lifetime away from Cape Town’s inclement wet weather and JP found himself snookered when he and Abbi jetted into Cape Town last Sunday.

“All I wanted to do was light a fire and have a lekker braai. But there was no chance of that,” he smiles as he bounced a happy Valentyna on his lap and observes again that the tough as teak Oriental Charm has crowned a season that has proven so many things to him.

Mission accomplished – part owners Gina Goldsmith and Greg Bortz head out for the lead-in (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

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