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Craig’s Ready For Take-Off

Dave The King - chance if he settles

Some things just happen at the right time. For 28 year old former SA champion apprentice Craig Zackey, who partners the ‘dark horse’ Dave The King in next weekend’s Hollywoodbets Durban July, the call-up last week as first choice rider to the Dean Kannemeyer stable is set to raise his game and make next season his best ever.

Dean Kannemeyer is enjoying plenty of feature success in the 2023 Champions Season, and after Gimme A Prince’s top-class victory in the Gr1 Golden Horse Sprint earlier this month, the stable produced the goods at the same venue last Saturday when Runaway Song caught the eye, winning the Gr3 Track And Ball Derby to give the yard their third victory in seven renewals.

Craig Zackey – things happening for the talented rider (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

“Mr Kannemeyer and Khaya Stables Racing Manager Mr Jehan Malherbe called me. I really didn’t need to hesitate for a moment. They said ‘think about it.’ I said I’m in!” laughs Craig as he chats to the Sporting Post and tells that a trainer’s confidence in his jockey is one of the single biggest components of riding winners.

“It’s well known throughout the industry that Mr Kannemeyer is a trainer who doesn’t blame the jockey and let’s us do our job. I have chatted to Keagan (De Melo) and he confirms that reality was a material contributor to his personal growth over the past few years. It’s all about support and confidence. That makes me excited as it will allow me to grow, develop and learn plenty, without unnecessary stress ,” says Craig.

The vacancy at the powerful yard arose as a result of Keagan de Melo’s new season licencing in Hong Kong. The SA champion jockey elect has joined Australians Brenton Avdulla and Luke Currie in being granted part-season Hong Kong licences that expire on 12 February.

When de Melo arrived at the Kannemeyer yard some years ago, he was some way off the polished national-title chasing rider that he is today.

While his departure is something of a temporary operational upheaval for the veteran trainer, Kannemeyer says that his young jockey has to take the opportunity and that he would never stand in his way.

“This is an accolade and deserved acknowledgement for Keagan’s consistently outstanding achievements over the past few seasons, culminating in what is set to be his first national title this term. Hong Kong don’t dish out licences and the invitation is a prestigious opportunity. We wish Keagan well,” added Kannemeyer.

He said that he has always believed that a dedicated rider is important for the success of any training operation.

“They get to know the horses and feedback is vital,” he added before observing that Craig Zackey was a multiple Gr1 winning jockey who had been a good ambassador for a top brand like Wilgerbosdrift and Mauritzfontein, and had succeeded in his brief spell in New Zealand.

Zackey’s record is certainly impressive.

He rode his first winner on Commander Cat for Tony Rivalland at Clairwood on 12 August 2012 in an Apprentice Handicap.  Coincidentally, runner-up in that race was one Keagan de Melo, who rode Special Henny for Pat Lunn.

A former SA Champion Apprentice, Craig rode the first of his ten Gr1 winners while still an apprentice when Arabian Beat won the SA Nursery in 2015. He has enjoyed associations with top horses like Nother Russia and Vardy, and success in races like the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and the Cape Fillies Guineas. He also boasts 22 winners at Gr2 and Gr3 level.

He spent a short time in New Zealand last year, where he displayed his ability and prowess in the saddle, and rode the winner of the Karaka Million, as well as enjoying a Gr2 and Gr3 victory.

Craig Zackey with trainer Adam Marcus (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

He has been back home a few months and has received solid support from the top yards.

Craig lives in Johannesburg with his partner Sasha and their 3 year old daughter, Sierra. The Kannemeyer Racing Team race in the Cape and KZN. We asked how he was going to manage the logistics and travelling.

“I have been doing the Joburg- Cape Town route for some 3 or 4 years now. Now Durban will become a permanent fixture in my routine. It will require planning and effort and as it evolves we can look at setting up other bases . But any jockey who has national title aspirations has to make the sacrifices, and I am really very excited about this fantastic new opportunity,” he says proudly.

Craig, whose closest to the cup in the Durban July was his fifth on Saratoga Dancer behind The Conglomerate in 2016,  rides Dave The King for Mike de Kock in the 2023 Hollywoodbets Durban July.

He feels the 3yo is definitely not without a chance, but that a lot will depend on whether he relaxes in running.

Craig takes Dave The King through his paces at the Hollywoodbets Durban July gallops (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

“He’s a lovely strong horse and has certainly earned his place in the line-up. He finished under a length behind July favourite See It Again in the Daily News. So it will be his first time at 2200m and everything hinges on whether he relaxes and doesn’t take the bit.”

He has a nice card of rides on the big day on 1 July.

“Christophe Soumillon is riding Safe Passage in the Hollywoodbets Durban July and he won the Gr1 Majorca Stakes on Desert Miracle in January. So he will ride her in the Ridgemont Gr1 Garden Province Stakes. It’s a pity as she is a beautiful filly and I really enjoy riding her! But we take the good with the bad and continue boxing on,” smiles Craig.

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