Athandiwe is a bright young man with a ton of ability and has a clear picture of what he wants to achieve. Becoming the first apprentice since Michael Roberts 40 years ago to ride the jackpot has been a big boost to his career. With his willingness to get out and ride lots of work and meet many trainers means he should be getting many decent rides and thereby boost his chance to get to the top which is his stated ambition. Being head boy at the academy is also instilling in his responsibility and discipline. Athandiwe has all the ingredients for a highly successful career as a jockey.
What is your name and age? Athandiwe Mgudlwa and I turn 20 on August 18.
Where do you live? I am still an apprentice I live at the academy at Summerveld.
Where did you grow up and go to school? I grew up in Benoni. I started school at Nkangala Primary School up to grade 4 and then moved to Ntsikana Primary School. After that I went to Hulwazi Secondary School and studied there for a year and then came to the jockey academy.
Tell us about your family? I am the only boy with two sisters. Both my parents are still alive.
How did it come about that you went to the jockey academy? One afternoon on my way back from school I met a guy called Vincent Mkhize who was one of the teachers at the school where I lived. He told me about the academy and he said that I could possibly make it as a jockey because I was small.
You are head boy at the academy. What are your duties as head boy and is it something you are happy and proud to be? I have to make sure that the rules are followed by my fellow students/apprentices. It is a hard position to be in because I must be fair to everyone. It is something I am happy and proud to do.
Which trainer are you apprenticed to? At the moment most of my rides come from Alyson Wright’s stable.
What early lessons did you learn from Garth Puller? Most of my riding techniques were taught to me by Mr Puller. He also taught me to treat people respectfully and also about horsemanship.
Which do you consider to be the best horse you have ridden at this early stage of your career? Nitro Nori for trainer Alyson Wright. He has not done much yet but he has a special feel and I think he will go on to better things.
When do you qualify as a jockey? I am in my last year now. Hopefully I will qualify at the beginning of next year.
Have you only ever ridden work at Summerveld or have you ridden work at any other training centres? Ashburton and Clairwood.
Which was the first horse you won on? Dream Model for Garth Puller.
How many horses do you ride work on in the morning? Not quite sure but I would think that 15 is the minimum.
How enjoyable do you find riding work in the morning? Riding work is very enjoyable. It keeps me out of trouble and I learn something new every morning
Val De Ra has proved to be a filly with exceptional speed. Have you ever ridden in a race with her and did she impress you with her great speed? Yes I have. I ran second to her at Clairwood and she really impressed me with her speed. She was brilliant when winning the Computaform Sprint. She is one of those horses who don’t just run because they are asked to but because she wants to.
It must have been a great thrill to be the first apprentice in 40 years, since Michael Roberts, to ride the jackpot. Has that achievement had any influence on the way you approach your job? Yes that achievement had a big influence on my job and I started feeling that I had made the right decision because there were times when I felt I had not made the right decision. It boosted my confidence a lot.
Have you made any plans for yourself once you qualify as a jockey? I am still working on my plans. Most important to me right now is to ride 50 winners.
With the KZN season now in full swing is there any chance that you will be riding in some, or all, of the big feature events? Alyson Wright has got a few horses that are above average. I am also going to try and show my face to all the other top trainers so there is a possibility that I will ride in some of the big feature events.
Which horses from the yards you ride work for do you think will be profitable to follow over the winter season? Moon Spun for Alyson Wright and Coffee Sheik for Wendy Whitehead.
With KZN season in full swing which horses do you think are going to make a big impact? The Cape horses Past Master, What A Winter, English Garden and Solo Traveller and the Gauteng pair of Igugu and Dancewiththedevil.
How keen are you on the breeding side of horse racing? I am not so keen on that side of racing but I know it is important as it helps one to see the distance the horse should like to run and how it should be ridden.
Which stallions do you really like? Jet Master, Silvano and Var.
What are your ambitions with regard to your career or will you take it as it comes? I would like to be at the top of the log after I have settled down after coming out of my time but I know I must work extremely hard to get there.
Do you ever advise family members or friends to have a punt on a horse you really think will win? My family doesn’t know much about racing so I don’t give them any tips.
Do you have a favourite racecourse to ride on? I have not had the opportunity to ride in many big races so I don’t know yet.
You appear to be very cool and calm after your horse has won but do you feel any nerves before a big race? I do feel excited and a bit nervous.
Is there any particular personality who influenced you to make racing such a big part of your life? Up to now I have been making my own choices but I have lots of support from the trainers I ride for.
For you personally what has been the most exciting moment of the past year or two? Although I did not have the opportunity to celebrate it riding the jackpot was very exciting for me.
How many winners have you ridden to date? 33 and my immediate goal is 50 winners.
How do you celebrate a big win? Up to now I have not really celebrated a big win. In time I will celebrate with family and friends.
If you have to name the most important lessons you have learnt about racing thus far what would you say that is? I have learnt to be patient and to never forget where I come from.
How do you spend your free time? I like to watch TV or to sit on my own and listen to music.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? The game is fair and there is no discrimination-it is just straight forward.
From what you have observed of racing do you think the game is straight? Yes the game is straight.
If you had one piece of advice for your fellow associates in the racing world what would it be? God loves us all. Everything happens for a reason and complaining about the past is never going to help us. Concentrate on what you want and live that way.