Anthony Delpech is booked to ride Jessica Slack’s Smart Call in the Gr1 Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, 1 October 2016. We chat to him about his life, career and where he gets his BMT.
Anthony Clet (pronounced ‘Clay’ after his late father), Delpech was born in the Seychelles on 10 February 1969. When he was 12 years old, his family came to South Africa in search of better education for himself and his brother and the family settled in Durban. “My parents actually wanted to go America – most of our family are there – but they found a liking for South African and decided to stay.”
“I was always quite small at school and coming from the Seychelles, I spoke French. I could hardly speak English, so I really struggled at school. Everyone was saying ‘be a jockey’. I didn’t know anything about horses – I just thought it was a good way to get out of school. I didn’t know it was going to be my career for the rest of my life, but I got on a horse and never looked back.”
Anthony joined the SA jockey academy in 1982, training alongside Anton Marcus, Marthinus Mienie, Mark Khan and Frikkie Vermaak. He was apprenticed to Joey Joseph, and Herman Brown and Michael Airey were also early supporters.
Despite not being from a racing background, Anthony says his family and his father in particular were always very supportive. “My dad passed away 22 years ago, but he was always fond of racing and used to watch all my races. Particularly in the early part of my career, he never used to miss a meeting and would even duck work to come to races. My mom is still around, but she doesn’t get involved too much. She’ll phone when I win a big race or so, but she’s not really a racing person.”
Delpech formed a strong association with David Ferraris who he won the 1998 Rothmans July from a tricky 18 draw on Classic Flag. He then aimed for the SA National Title and not only won it for the first time in the 1998/99 season, but finished on a staggering 334 wins for the season, a record which still stands today. “I thought I was ready enough to try and win the Championship and I had a brilliant start to the season – I rode 100 winners in the first three months and broke the SA record. That was the first time I really chased it.”
Anthony then spread his wings and set his sights abroad. “I started in Singapore and went over for 3 months the first time. I would probably have stayed longer than I did the second time round, but a few months into the trip, I had a bad fall in a race. I was leading and the horse I was on broke a leg. I needed surgery on my face – I lost my front teeth, my gum – I was out for while.”
He also spent two seasons in Dubai. “I enjoyed it. I rode for Nick Robb for the first season and in my second season, I spent the last two months riding for Erwan Charpy.” After his tenure in Dubai he spent 5 years in Hong Kong, which led to him renewing ties with David Ferraris and partnering a very special horse named Vengeance Of Rain.
Vengeance Of Rain was a NZ-bred son of Zabeel that carried Anthony to victory in all of the 2005 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby, the 2005 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup, the 2005 Hong Kong Champions & Chater Cup, the 2005 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup, the 2007 Hong Kong Gold Cup and made it a first for Hong Kong when he won the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at Nad al Sheba in 2007. Vengeance Of Rain broke Silent Witness’ all-time Hong Kong prize money record and was crowned Hong Kong Horse Of The Year for the 2006/07 season.
“I don’t think too many jockeys get to win six Group 1’s on a horse and get to travel and win with them. He was a special horse.” Asked what he was like, Anthony laughs and says, “He was very strong in the morning. The lad used to canter him round on the inside track and I’d work him on the fast days.” Although Vengeance Of Rain passed on in 2011, he will never be forgotten by his jockey, who has an image of the horse tattooed on his shoulder.
Anthony seems to get attached to the horses he partners, often noticeably making much of his charges. After the Cape Guineas, he ran out of the winner’s enclosure to give Noah From Goa a pat before the horse was led away and he also stopped to give Bela-Bela an affectionate stroke on the head before being legged up for this year’s Vodacom Durban July. “Some horses get on with some people better than others. I think it’s my way of letting them know Anthony’s in the saddle. It’s always been my way.”
”Hong Kong lifted me up. Your level of riding has to improve because the competition is so tough and the margin for error is almost impossible, otherwise you will lose races. Riding in front of the crowds there is unbelievable and also makes you raise your game. People appreciate you and thank you, which makes you really want to go out there and do well.”
Why come back to South Africa when things were going so well in Hong Kong? “My wife and I had our first two children abroad and when Vengeance Of Rain retired and Candice fell pregnant with our third child, it seemed like the right time to go home.”
Has that had an influence on how he approaches big occasions now that he’s back home? “I think once you have ridden in those big races overseas, you’re so much more relaxed. You know what you have achieved, so why get under pressure – it’s not going to make any difference,” he says pragmatically. “And perhaps it’s because I’m more relaxed, I find that I tend to raise my game when I ride in big races.
It has also influenced his approach to riding and while his strike rate is still amongst the highest in the country (20%), Anthony has adopted quality over quantity approach. “From last year I’ve decided to focus more on winning the big races. When one is travelling all the time, you don’t have the time to work horses in the mornings as much. I find that morning training is so important because you get to know the horses better and you also get to know which horses will be running in the feature races. I was so lucky last season to have the choice of big horses in big races. Mind you, if another jockey gets to 334, I might have to consider travelling again,” he jokes.
Mike de Kock
Thanks to a recommendation from Kevin Shea, Anthony paired up with the Mike de Kock yard and the pair forged a formidable partnership over the years, including three more July wins (Greys Inn in 2004, 2010 Bold Silvano in 2010 and Igugu in 2011) amongst others.
Although the split with the De Kock yard earlier this year received its fair share of press coverage, Anthony says if anything, the split has strengthened the relationship. “Mike and I have always had a good friendship and we still play golf together when time allows. I think we’re closer now than when I was stable jockey. Sometimes when someone is your boss, you try and keep a respectful distance and not associate after races so much. He’s taught me a lot.”
Having ridden with distinction in South Africa, Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, Japan and Mauritius, Anthony will be adding another country to his CV when he sets off to the UK to partner 2016 J&B Met winner Smart Call in the Gr1 Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket on 1 October 2016.
“I’m sponsored by Mary and Jessica (Slack) and I’m retained by Mary. I was very fond of Mary’s mother, Mrs Oppenheimer and rode for her a lot when I was a bit younger.” Interestingly, Greys Inn, on whom Anthony won the July for Mrs O back in 2004 is from the same family as Smart Call. “I enjoy riding for Mary and I’ve always had a bit of luck for her, which is why I’m so excited about this new venture.”
Anthony arrives in the UK on Wednesday and will sprint Smart Call up on Thursday. “Alec (Laird) wanted me to be there to have a feel of her before the race. It’s a straight mile, so I’ll walk the track and talk to one or two of the guys I know to give me a little input, but I’ll take it as it comes. Obviously on the day I’ll be watching which side of the track they go as they usually choose one side or the other and I think that’s important.”
Any instructions so far? “Alec has said very little, but I think he’s waiting till I get there. Jessica is the one that’s so excited – I’ve got a lot of messages from her!”
Anthony and wife Candice have been married for 20 years – a milestone they are both very proud of – and his family and children are very important to him. Sadly, the Sun Chariot is one of his first big races that his family won’t be there to support him. “I was booked to go to Mauritius with my family next Saturday – we usually go away together for the school holidays. So the family will be flying from South Africa to Mauritius and I’ll leave the UK after races on Saturday and join them the next day.