“What I think you’ll see is more and more of his experience and his poise and it’s not his first rodeo. He has been around the traps and he is a class act. He will be a real asset to my stable and to South Australian racing.”
The words of leading trainer Tony McEvoy after 42 year old South African born jockey Barend Vorster continued his flying start after just a week in his new home of Australia
Vorster landed the time honoured A$1.25 million GrI Newmarket Handicap, one of Australia’s most famous races, at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne aboard Sunlight at only his second ride on Saturday as McEvoy’s stable jockey.
48 hours later he took up his post as the lead rider of the trainer’s Adelaide team. He booted home Despatch for McEvoy in the opening race on Monday at the Adelaide Cup meeting.
Barend, his wife Nikki and their 11 year old son Brendan recently packed up their world in Singapore and, together with their dachshund and toy poodle, made the life changing move to their new home in the Barossa Valley.
The renowned wine-producing region northeast of Adelaide in South Australia, is drenched in breathtaking scenery with Shiraz grapes the local speciality. The stone cottages and Lutheran churches throughout the region are testament to a 19th-century wave of German settlers.
“In Singapore, everything is five minutes away and very convenient. Having been born in Africa, I’m looking forward to the wide open spaces here again! It’s a beautiful country and there are a good few golf courses here and there too,” observed the seemingly modest 12 handicapper.
Greg Cheyne cautions the Sporting Post that Barend is in fact an accomplished golfer – ‘’He’s a real gentleman – but don’t let him play Mr modest! He is very good,” quips Cheyne.
On the immediate impressions of his new life, Barend says that ‘there are a lot of adjustments naturally’.
“We are currently staying in a Bed and Breakfast and all of our material possessions are still in containers. Even the poor dogs are in quarantine,” he laughed as he chatted to the Sporting Post.
After 15 years in Singapore, where he won the championship and booted home five Gr1 winners in a total of 787 victories, he says he enjoyed terrific support from the likes of Patrick Shaw and Ricardo Le Grange.
With no issues or problems, the Vorsters decided to review their future, considering that Barend had perhaps more than ten good years left in the saddle, and their son Brendan was 11 and heading towards senior school.
“It was a good time for a change and to start a new chapter in our lives. And Tony’s advertisement for a stable jockey in South Australia was thus opportune timing,” recalls Barend, who left the land of his birth in 2003 after an equine flu outbreak.
In recent reports, Tony McEvoy said that Barend was the first to send an email asking for the job. “I couldn’t spell his name for a start!”
McEvoy, who had heard of Vorster, looked into the South African’s riding record, thought “wow” and quickly taught himself how to spell his name.
“He’s a very good jockey. He’s not a new kid on the block,” he told the Australian racing media.
Many of those ‘very good jockeys’ have started out at the SA jockey Academy and after spending his young years growing up on a farm near the mining town Messina – now renamed Musina – Barend walked through those famous doors in 1991. Alongside him were familiar names like Brandon Morgenrood, Donovan Yeo, Piet Botha and Derryl Daniels.
He rode his first few years out for the Passmores and Dennis Bosch, before moving North to Terry Lowe.
Barend will be best remembered by local racegoers as the pilot of the 2002 J&B Met winner Polo Classic. Off a slow pace – the Cape Crawl is nothing new – Barend rode a cracker on Terry Lowe’s Polo Classic to beat Grande Jete, Angus and Free My Heart.
“He’s the best jockey in the country,” beamed trainer Terry Lowe at the time as he hugged Vorster in the post-race celebrations at a sunny Kenilworth all those seventeen years ago.
Barend met his future wife Nikki, who was doing an Equine Diploma and worked for Gavin Smith initially, when she transferred to Terry Lowe in Johannesburg.
A year later, with local racing hamstrung due to the equine flu, Barend got a three month permit to ride for Pat Shaw in Singapore. It was a lifechanger that was to last 15 fabulous years.
“I was fortunate. I rode some winners – my first was for Hall Of Fame trainer Laurie Laxon – and what started as a gap filler, became a way of life,” he recalls.
On the local lifestyle, Barend says that Australia is very much like South Africa, with the accent on outdoor activities and wide open spaces.
His son attended a top Canadian International School in Singapore and was studying Mandarin – so they would like to find a suitable local school that will be the least disruptive to the young man’s education.
“Everything is at hand in Singapore. I will have to get used to driving longer distances again here. But it’s worth the effort and I’m looking forward to working for the McEvoy team. It’s a professional set-up and in fact Australian horseracing as a whole seems very well run. No nonsense and no quarter given.”
He recounted how he had met his trainer and a track specialist at Flemington to walk the track the day before the Gr1 last week.
“The tracks are generally much wider than in SA. So we met and we walked the track for hours with prodder sticks, assessing the going and discussing tactics. We eventually found what we thought would be the optimum strip to follow. It’s a professional and serious approach that I enjoy.”
Barend’s Dad passed away while he was still in the Academy, but he keeps in touch with his Mom in Joburg and his local friends like East Cape Champion Greg Cheyne and recently retired Johnny Geroudis, who also rode with success in Singapore.
“South Africa is a beautiful country. I did a really lovely road trip a few years ago up the Garden Route and all the way through to Limpopo in the North. I try and visit regularly and if I can’t make it, I will fly my Mom out to wherever we are. I haven’t been to the races in SA since the July in about 2007, I think.”
He closed by sending his best wishes and deep appreciation and thanks for all the words of congratulations he had received from South Africa after his Gr1 win on Saturday.
“The world’s become a small place. I follow the racing in SA and try my best to stay in touch. I suppose that wherever life finds us, one’s heart is always close to home!”