An inspired moment at Christmas lunch last year with his family led to 40 year old retired Cape jockey Piet Botha launching a comeback to the saddle which reaches a climax at Kenilworth on Saturday.
The culinary delights of turkey, roast potatoes and malva pudding at Christmas is probably not a run-of-the-mill kind of moment for a jockey who hadn’t been in the saddle for six years to ponder a comeback – but close to four months down the line, the dream has become reality for the softly spoken Botha.
He has two rides for Glen Puller at Kenilworth on Saturday. He says both will keep him on his toes – the 2yo debutante Love To Fly presents the unknown, while Jay Rock runs over 1800m – that’s a long way after a long time!
An injury while riding work at Summerveld in 2010 ended with him throwing in the towel at the end of 2013 and becoming a suit in the corporate world of coffee.
At the time Botha said that it had taken him some time to get over the depression and anger that followed the end of his riding career
“I am fortunate to have a well-established business today of my own but I have missed the atmosphere and buzz of horseracing terribly. The corporate world has its own challenges and thrills but nothing beats horseracing,” says the Kempton Park High School pupil who graduated from the SA Jockey Academy in the class of 1998, with the likes of Barend Vorster, Brandon Morgenrood and Derryl Daniels.
Piet completed his apprenticeship with Glen Puller and he says he has gone full circle in many respects as he makes a second start with the same Milnerton yard.
“I started riding work on 27 December 2016 and Glen has been amazingly supportive and encouraging. We work well together – it’s a relationship built on trust and understanding,” says the happily married father of two boys.
The combination enjoyed phenomenal success with the likes of top horses like Sevillano, Great Rhythm and What A Playboy.
We asked if it was tough ‘bashing down doors’ to get his licence back.
“My doctor gave me the green light and I approached Vee Moodley to find out what the process was. Things happened rapidly thereafter. I am pretty fit but race riding is the answer to real fitness. I ride a 2yo and have an 1800m ride on Saturday. So it’s a mini baptism of fire of sorts,” he laughed.
And how has the racing community received the comeback kid?
“The trainers and owners that I have spoken to have been very encouraging. Some guys naturally think I’m crazy. They may think Jannie Bekker is crazy too! A lot of my generation in the riding ranks locally have moved on, so I don’t know many guys in the jockey room. But hell, I am looking so forward to Saturday.”