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Craig Zackey

Craig Zackey

Craig Zackey

18 year old apprentice jockey CRAIG ZACKEY is in the third year of his apprenticeship with the South African Jockey Academy, based in Summerveld. Prior to joining the academy, Craig had never sat on a horse, but he has quickly developed a love and passion for the thoroughbred. After a slow start to his career, he has racked up fifteen winners, to date, which leaves him five short of losing his 4kgs apprentice claim. He is yet to compete in his first Grade 1 but recently partnered the dual Grade 1 winning colt Slumdogmillionaire to a start-to-finish victory in a Conditions Plate at Turffontein. Hardly surprisingly, he rates the son of Strike Smartly as the best horse that he has won on. Craig is a well-spoken, focused and confident youngster that is doing the Academy proud and We wishes him everything of the best in his future endeavours.

What is your name and age?  Craig Gerard Simon Zackey and I am 18 years old.  

What is your star sign and birthdate?  I am Aries and I was born on the 7th April 1995.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?  I was born in Gauteng and grew up in the suburb of the East Rand.  

Where do you live?  My family live in Brakpan and I am currently living at the South African Jockey Academy which is based at Summerveld near Hillcrest, Durban.

Tell us about your family?  My dad is my biggest supporter and his name is Simon. My mom’s name is Debbie and I have one younger sister and her name is Franchesca. I also have three older brothers, Gerad, Byron and Marco. Seeing that I am Lebanese I also have 67 other cousins and supporters!

Do you have a ‘nickname’?  Yes, I have two. They call me the “Zack Attack” or the “Little Lebanese”.

Favourite food?  I enjoy most foods but have to keep a close watch on what I eat. I do enjoy a good home made burger.

Favourite drink?  Sprite.

Favourite music?  R & B and Hip Hop.

Favourite sport?  Horse racing and riding is my passion. I love what I do and wake up every day for it. Besides racing I also enjoy soccer.

Favourite soccer team?  BARCELONA!!

What is your favourite holiday destination?  I would love to go to Mauritius for a holiday.

Which school did you attend before going to the academy?  I was a student at Boksburg High.

Which sports did you play at school?  I was a good soccer player while I was at school.

What are your favourite subjects in school?  Business Studies and Maths.

Are you still in school or have you received your matric?  I am currently doing my matric this year. Once I have matriculated I will focus even more of my attention, and time, on riding.

Have any of your family members been involved in horses or horseracing?  Yes, my dad is an owner.

Before you came to the academy, did you know anything about horse racing? No, I had never sat on a horse before. 

How did you find out about the South African Jockey Academy?  My late grandfather and my father told me about it and introduced me to the South African Jockey Academy. I am very glad they did as I am enjoying my apprenticeship very much.

Who is the person that got you into the academy?  My late grandfather took me to all my interviews and I was selected from there.

In which year did you join the academy?  I joined the Academy in 2011 and will qualify at the end of 2015.

What are the requirements you need to become an apprentice jockey?  You need to be reasonably small in stature and be a fairly light weight. Good attitude, hard work and dedication are an absolute must if you want to make a success of this profession. 

Who were your fellow apprentices at that intake?  Collen Storey, Ryan Munger, Jose Barnes, Nicholas Patel, Wayton Van Staden, Xavier Carstens, Luyolo Mxothwa, Heavelon Van Der Hoven and Divan Neethling.

Describe a typical day in your first year at the academy?  Wake up at 4am and head off to the stables to prepare your horse for a riding lesson. Have a lesson given by the riding master and then go and clean out your stable. Then you put your horse into the paddock and head off for breakfast. Prepare for the academic day. After school there is another lesson and stable duties in the afternoon.

Who are your riding masters?  Mr. Rhys Van Wyk, Mr. Stephen Jupp and Mr. Laurence O’Donoghue. We are in very good hands. Mr. Terrence Welch was here but then moved to Cape Town. 

How often do you get on the equicizer to practice your riding? We get on to the equicizer almost every day.

When did you start riding work and who were the trainers who helped you a lot?  I started riding work early in my second year and most of the trainers based at all three training centres helped me get started.

How often do you ride work and which is the main training centre?  I ride work 6 days a week, Monday to Saturday, both days included and we have Sunday off. We normally race on a Sunday. Ashburton is currently my main training centre but I also ride work at Summerveld and Clairwood.

Which horses do you rate as the best horses you have ridden in work?  Rumya, Vettel, Felix The Cat and Espumanti.

How good a judge are you as to how a horse galloped?  I believe I am a fairly accurate judge.

When did you sign your papers and what were your feelings when you signed them?  I signed my racing papers in March 2012 and it was a superb feeling. It is a great feeling of achievement and satisfaction.

When did you have your first ride and which horse did you ride?  My first ride was in March 2012 aboard a horse called “West End” for Mr. Jeff Freedman.

Tell us about the experience of your first race?  I blinked and it was over! But it was an adrenalin rush and very exciting.

How long after your first ride did you have your first winner?  It was five months after my first ride that I cracked my maiden win. It took a bit long as I started riding just before the main season.

Tell us about it?  I rode Commander Cat for Mr. Tony Rivalland and it was at Clairwood in an Apprentice Handicap. A very proud and exciting moment for me, a moment I will never forget.

Who were the first trainers who gave you support?  Mr. Mike de Kock, Mr. Tony Rivalland and Mr. Dominic Zaki.

You have come a long way since your first win. How many winners have you had to date?  I have currently ridden 15 winners and I look forward to many more in the future.

Which, in your opinion, is the best horse you have won on?  Without a doubt, SLUMDOGMILLIONAIRE!

How ambitious are you to ride in as many feature races as possible?  I am very ambitious to ride in any feature race.

How do you prep yourself going into races? For example form studying or watching replays?  I watch replays all the time and spend the night before studying the form of my races. I also speak to the other jockeys that have ridden the horse before me for, advice and, obviously, I talk to the trainer about how he wants me to ride the horse.

Are you currently sponsored?  No, I am sadly not. However, I do believe WINNING FORM does a wonderful job with sponsorship of jockeys….. (Hint hint).

Have your expectations of being a jockey all come about?  Yes my expectations have been met and exceeded.

Is there anything about being a jockey that you don’t like?  There is nothing that I don’t like but in saying that I don’t like getting beaten.

What is your most comfortable riding mass?  50kgs and upwards.

How easy is it for you to maintain this mass?  It is fairly easy but I do watch what I eat. I am fortunate enough to be able to spoil myself every now and again.

Do you do any extra physical activities in order to keep at top riding fitness?  Yes, we attend the gym every Monday and Thursday afternoons.

Have you won or ridden in any feature races?  I have not won any feature races as yet (that will change) but I have ridden Knight To Remember for Mr. Duncan Howells in the Easter Handicap.

Have you ridden in any grade 1 races?  Not as yet but I look forward to my first Grade 1 ride and winner.

How confident are you when riding against the ‘big’ name jockeys in South Africa?  I am very confident. The big boys are hard to beat but I happily compete against them.

Which of the senior jockeys do you admire?  Brandon Lerena, Anton Marcus, Anthony Delpech and Piere Strydom.

Do any of the senior jockeys take a particular interest in you and help you along the way?  Yes, Brandon Lerena sees my mistakes and gives me advice at all times.

Who is your favourite overseas jockey?  Douglas Whyte and Christophe Soumillon. 

Did you meet any of the international jockeys when they came to South Africa?  Yes, I met Cedric Segeon and Maxime Guyon. 

Did you enjoy meeting them?  I found them to be very friendly and very knowledgeable people.

Maxime Guyon rode in one race meeting at Clairwood. Did you have a chance to have a one on one discussion with him?  Yes, I lent him my breast plate and we got conversing from there.

What impressed you the most about Maxime?  He was very polite and never had any attitude at all. He saw himself as one of the “boys”.

Has meeting him inspired you to ride overseas?  Most definitely. I would love to ride overseas one day.

What lasting impression about being a jockey did Maxime leave with you?  To work hard and be humble.

You rode Along Came Polly in the controversial My Sanctuary race. What was going through your head during the race and did you think it was a false start?  During the race I was a bit confused as I saw My Sanctuary way behind and a few jockeys looking over their shoulders and easing but then got going again as no false start siren went off. I did indeed think it was a false start. 

Along Came Polly ran on really well in that race. How do you rate this young filly?  She ran on well, more than what we expected. I believe she is an above average filly. With more time and experience she will develop into a nice type.

Do you know that she has since been sold and do you think she has a good future?  I do know she has been sold and I think her new owners and trainer will have a lot of fun with her. I will miss her.

You won on Slumdogmillionaire in a conditions race in March. How did you get the ride and were you nervous going into the race?  Mr. Van Zyl had phoned Mr. Van Wyk to ask him if I could ride him in JHB. I was not nervous as Chesney and Mr. Van Zyl put no pressure on me and gave me all the confidence in the world along with very simple instructions.

What were your instructions and did you ride him the way you wanted to?  My instructions were to be right up there or even go to the front as I had only 48kgs to carry and it worked out exactly as we planned it. In the straight Heavy Metal went past us but SLUMDOGMILLIONAIRE moved around Heavy Metal and found another gear and sailed right past the opposition to win a very good race. He has since won a Grade 1 to prove how good he really is.

The KZN winter season is around the corner. Do you think you will get any rides in any feature races?  I am not sure but I am ready and waiting.

Which horses in your view are horses to follow during the winter season?  There are many top class horses that will be raiding KZN but to mention a few: Via Africa, Capetown Noir, Rumya and Espumanti.

Name a few young horses that you think punters can follow in the future?  My Sanctuary, Red Ray, Via Africa and Izora etc.

Do you watch replays of the days racing to see where you made your mistakes during races?  Yes, all the time after every race meeting and I also watch the same race over and over again.

Does your riding master watch with you?  Yes, they do watch the races and videos with us and rectify our mistakes but I do watch a lot of the races on my own in my own time.

Tell us about your rides for the night meeting at Greyille this Friday?

Race 3: EMINENCE DAY (12) – This is a first timer and I am expecting him to be a bit green. He is drawn wide and may just need this run.

Race 4: GREYS NOVENA (13) – I am hoping for an improved run.

Race 5: WHITE TIGER (7) – Is working very well and I am expecting him to run into the first four.

Race 6: RADIO WAVES (5) – Is working very well and is in form. I know this horse well now and I am expecting him to be involved in the finish. This is my best ride.  

Race 8: SOCIETI (13) – Is racing against older rivals but on her debut effort she looks to be useful and with this filly having a very low weight to carry I make her a big runner.

Tell us a bit about the staff at the Academy and does anybody assist you with getting rides and communication with owners and trainers?  There is a passionate and dedicated staff compliment at the Academy which is headed up by our headmaster Mr. Graham Bailey. We also have three very competent riding masters, Mr. Rhys van Wyk, Mr. Stephen Jupp and Mr. Laurence O’Donoghue that assists us at all times. There are many other staff members that work and help at the Academy. There are too many to mention individually but their support is appreciated. Mr. Warren Lenferna is here to assist us and help us with getting rides, amongst many other things, and to work with us with regards to owner and trainer communication. We send sms’s and emails to all the trainers and owners that we ride winners for and Mr. Lenferna assists us with that as well. It is one big team effort. Thanks to all the staff at the Academy for their help. 

Do you think any of your friends, who have the physical attributes to be a jockey, will want to follow in your footsteps?  Yes, I am sure that if they had to come and see what this sport is all about a few would be interested. I need to work on that!

What do you tell your friends when they want to know what the life of a jockey is like? It is not for the faint hearted! If you can’t take the heat in the kitchen ….. GET OUT!

What influence on your family has your becoming a jockey had?  It has brought my family closer and they are very supportive of me. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my family for everything they do for me.

Do your parents, or any other family members, come to watch you racing?  Yes, when they get the opportunity they are there to support and watch me race.

Do you take an interest in the breeding side of things?  Yes, I really do enjoy looking at the breeding of the horses and take a particular interest in the various sires.

Who are your favourite stallions?  Var, Red Ransom, Tiger Ridge and Right Approach.

Have you ever been to a horse sale?  Yes, I have been to many and I find it very interesting.

Have you gone to any stud farms to see the foals being born?  Yes, I was lucky enough to witness foaling at Yellow Star Stud.

Will you go out of your way to ask trainers to give you a ride in those races?  Yes, I will certainly try my best.

Which is your favourite track to race on?  Turffontein standside and Greyville.

How often do you watch South African racing on Tellytrack?  Every single day.

If for any reason you didn’t become a jockey what would have been your alternate career option?  A professional soccer player. 

Outside of racing do you have anything else you are passionate about?  Yes, my family and friends.

Do you think racing is well-policed?  Well, yes, I have been fined before so I believe it is definitely well policed!

Do you have a steady girlfriend or are you concentrating on your career?  Girlfriends don’t provide winners, so for right now I am single and looking to concentrate on my career.

Have you prepared a plan for yourself to follow to become one of SA’s top jockeys?  I have set short and long term goals for myself but am going to put my head down and strive to do my best and just take it one step at a time. I would like to thank all the owners and trainers that have supported me to get this far and I look forward to the future to be able to ride winners and provide the horses with the best possible service that I can from the saddle.

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