Cape jockey Devin Ashby displayed some deft and polished touches from the saddle to boot home a 160-1 treble at Durbanville on Saturday.
His confidence-boosting accolade as top jock on the sunny Cape afternoon is a welcome ray of hope for the often marginalised smaller stakeholders in a region dominated by the power players.
Devin was a familiar face, together with Travis Bloch and Luke Coleman, around Cape racecourses in his late teens. He was work riding and keen to become a jockey. He only got into the SA Jockey Academy at the age of 21 and qualified in December 2009.
He rode his first winner on 23 December 2009. Current Line was also his future father-in-law Paul Reeves’ first winner as a trainer. What a start that was!
The hardworking jockey’s boyish demeanour belies the reality that he has been riding for nearly two decades and that he is a 38 year old happily married Dad to a beautiful 5yo daughter, Skyler. His wife Stacey – daughter of trainer Paul Reeves – is an accomplished horsewoman in her own right.
“Time sure flies! It feels like yesterday when Aunty Gwen Heyns ‘adopted’ us as starry-eyed teenagers,” he laughs in reference to one of Cape racing’s much-loved owners who used to look after the young jocks at her Melkbosstrand residence in the days before the Cape branch of the Academy opened. Even that has now closed, but that’s a debate for another forum.
As it has been some time since we last caught up with him, we asked Devin how his career had progressed through the pandemic.
“It is well documented that it hasn’t been easy for many folk. But I have soldiered on and tried to maintain a positive outlook and a hard work ethic. I am very thankful to my father-in-law Paul Reeves and former top jockey Glen Hatt, who have counselled me and tried to guide me.”
Devin opens up and tells us that he is not shy to admit that he has suffered from depression for years. It had its roots in his tough childhood.
“As former jockeys, Glen Hatt and my father-in-law understand the ups and downs and frustrations. I was having a bad day and getting home and closing the curtains and simply shutting out the world. It’s clearly wrong to hold on to everything that went wrong as it tends to stay with one. And I have now accepted that it’s important to be able to take constructive criticism and well intended advice. Something I may have had an issue with previously.”
Devin enjoys the stability of domestic life and after 6 years of marriage – he and Stacey have been together for 12 years – and the responsibility that goes with being a Dad to a 5 year old daughter, he says that he has matured and an improved state of mind can only augur well for his riding.
Stacey joins the conversation with a giggle, adding that ‘jockeys never really grow up.’ She should know!
Two of Devin’s winners on Saturday – in fact, the first double on the card- were for his father-in-law and staunch owner Andy Elton, while Andries Steyn’s old man river Power Grid, is leased by owners Andrew Brand (his first ever racehorse), Surina de Villiers and the trainer’s wife, Jenny Steyn.
The 8yo Power Grid, now a winner of 7 races from his 54 starts, registered his second win under Devin in less than two weeks.
“He is an amazing horse – bandages, skew legs and all. I had to take my chances down the inside and hope that the gaps materialised. It panned out well and he gave his all,” adds Devin modestly.
The story of Power Grid is one for a movie script.
Bred by the now closed Daytona Stud, the Steyns were offered the little horse with everything in all the wrong places. If they didn’t take him, the breeders were going to put him down as his prospects of racing looked bleak.
“When we saw him work for the first time, I said this is not pretty and was expecting Power Grid to fall over. He has the least attractive action you have ever seen and yet 54 runs later, with 7 wins and 21 places to his credit, and earnings close on R750 000, he is better than ever,” added Jenny Steyn, who said that their flagbearer would tell them when he had had his fill of racing.
“When an 8yo wins his second race in in under two weeks with his ears pricked, he is loving it,” she adds proudly.
Devin rode the first double on Saturday for owner Andy Elton. Both Bonanza, who won at third time of asking, and Arctic Ice – having her eleventh outing after some near misses in her eight places – have been ridden by Devin exclusively.
“It was a really great moment to ride Mr Elton’s double – unbelievably his first ever as an owner after racing horses for 36 years in the UK and South Africa. It was particularly special as the loyalty he has shown me has been extraordinary. Arctic Ice has been knocking at the door to win for some time. Many owners would have opted for a higher profile jockey. There is nothing better to boost a rider’s confidence by knowing you are not going to be jocked off!”
Devin adds that one of the great honours and privileges that he has enjoyed in recent years was riding the work on newly crowned SA Horse Of The Year Rainbow Bridge.
“I am indebted to Mr Eric Sands and the owners for allowing me to partner this wonderful athlete in advance of his two Met victories. I can honestly say that Rainbow Bridge has taught me so much about trusting in and having faith in one’s horse.”
Devin has ridden 4 winners this season at a strike-rate of 19%.
“My confidence levels are up and I am in a good space physically and emotionally. So it’s up to me now to create the opportunities. Watch this space!”