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Denis Schwarz

Jackpot Schwarz

Denis Schwarz (photo: Candiese Marnewick)

Denis Schwarz (photo: Candiese Marnewick)

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 was the dawn of a brave new world for many, but none less so than Denis Schwarz, who rode the first 4-timer of his career as well as inking his name in SA racing’s history books, by becoming only the third apprentice to ride the Jackpot after Muis Roberts and Athandiwe Mgudlwa.

The Greyville Polytrack meeting for Wednesday, 6 December was a drizzly 9 race card affair and Denis’ engagements started in race 2, where he grabbed a 4th place cheque aboard the Robbie Hill-trained Camphoratus.  In race 3, he had another ride for Robbie Hill and brought Final Assembly home in third.  With his ride scratched in race 4, there was time for a quick breather before his historic feat, which got under way in race 5.

Everlasting Love (photo: Gold Circle)

Everlasting Love kicks off the Jackpot (photo: Gold Circle)

In short order, he brought home Everlasting Love for Robbie Hill, Lala for Doug Campbell, Cosima for Garth Puller and Hey Georgie Girl for Doug Campbell, to give him all four legs of the Jackpot.  He closed the card with another 3rd for Belinda Impey in the last.

It’s been a red-letter week for him as he also chalked up his 40th career win on Roy’s Snowdrops on Friday, 8 December and is now down to claiming 1.5kgs.

About Denis

Denis Willem Schwarz was born on 6 July 1999 and grew up in Alberton in Johannesburg.  He went to Orion Primary and attended Marais Viljoen High, before transferring to the SA Jockey Academy.  He was always an avid sportsman at school, playing cricket and rugby at primary school and switching to hockey in high school, when the size deficit with his classmates got a little too big.

The inspiration for applying to the Jockey Academy came from his step-father, who encouraged him to consider it as an option because of his size.  “It was never something I was definitely going to do, he just told me about it and said if I was interested, I should try.  When Grade 9 came, my step-father told me it was time to apply if I still wanted to do it, so I decided to try and see.  Just after my first interview, he took me to Summer Cup day at Turffontein.  When I saw that, I was totally interested and it convinced me that’s what I wanted to do.”  He recalls being allowed to pick a couple of horses on their looks and was proud when two of his selections finished 4th in their respective races.

From there it was fairly smooth sailing, except for a near miss over his second interview when there was a small email muddle and it was a bit of a scramble to get all the relevant information and get him out of school to make the interview, but it all worked out well in the end and Denis joined the intake of 2015 alongside the likes of Ashton Arries, Calvin Habib, Louis Burke, Sandile Mbhele, Dylan Lerena, Khanya Sakayi, Liam Tarentaal and Daniel Kotzen.  “There were 12 riders in my group and it’s turning into quite a competitive year.”  Among the group, he is good mates with Dylan Lerena and Ashton Arries.

Rocky start

Other than a quick crash course on a family friend’s farm, Denis had never ridden before joining the Academy and things didn’t get off to a very smooth start.  “Just after we got to the Academy, we went to a camp.  We weren’t even riding yet.  We were playing soccer in the sand and I broke my toe.  I was out for six weeks and hadn’t even got on a horse yet,” he laments.  “So right from the start, I was behind, but when the other guys were being taught, I watched them and learnt a lot, so I was able to catch up quickly.”

Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of his woes.  “About a month after I started going to track, a horse reared up and fell onto me, so that was another set-back and put me out for 6-8 weeks.  But from there on in, I’ve learnt quickly,” he says cheerfully, adding that he was one of the first from his year to sign his papers.

Asked about his time at the Academy, he says, “I think the education is fantastic.  The one on one really helps.  My marks improved since I joined the Academy.  They also teach us a lot about professionalism, hard work and determination and to keep your feet on the ground and not to get too far ahead of yourself.”


Denis’ first ride under rules came on Sunday, 20 March 2016, when he piloted the Craig Eudey trained Last Summer and Gavin van Zyl’s Ginger Biscuit at Scottsville, grabbing a 5th place cheque with Ginger Biscuit.  His first winner was Chronological for Gareth van Zyl on 11 May 2016.

Denis is from a large family.  His mother is a metro police officer and his step-father runs his own business.  He has two sisters and two half-brothers and is the youngest child but one.

Gavin and Gareth van Zyl

Gavin and Gareth van Zyl have been a big support

In terms of support, he singles out the Van Zyl yard.  “Gareth and Gavin van Zyl have helped me a lot and given me a lot of experience – not just at races, but at the track in the morning.  I also get a lot of support from the Wright yard, Mr Campbell and Mr Lafferty.”  Asked whether Laff has invented a nickname for him yet he says no.  “My family call me DW, but Mr Laff calls me Den.”  However, in a nice touch, Sheldon Peters predicted, “We’re going to call him ‘Jackpot Schwarz’ from now on”.  On the track, he is grateful to Warren Kennedy, “who used to help me a lot and I’m very thankful for that,” and Bernard Fayd’herbe, who he looks up to.

Career highlights so far are riding Pearl Emblem to three wins in a row, “To do that as an apprentice is very special for me,” and naturally, his feat last Wednesday.  “I had 7 rides and had a fourth, two thirds and four winners.

Red letter day

Hey Georgie Girl (photo: Gold Circle)

Hey Georgie Girl completes the set (photo: Gold Circle)

There is nothing that succeeds like success and Denis says when he went through the card, he was pretty confident that most of his rides had chances.  “There was just a maiden that was a bit concerning, but my first ride on that horse came 4th.  I had a first timer in race 3 that ran 3rd and then Everlasting Love that I’d won a barrier trial with.  I really liked her and she came from behind and really won well, which built up my confidence.  Then I won on Lala.  I’d won on her previously and really liked her and she won easily in a 5 horse field.  As it went on, it just got better and better and my confidence grew.  After winning on Cosima for Garth Puller, I remember Mandla Ntuli telling me in the jockey room that if I got half a chance I’d win with Georgie Girl and I did.”

Unfortunately he didn’t have any friends or family at the course to cheer him on, but confirms that his phone was ringing constantly.  Muis Roberts congratulated him on his achievement.  “He told me it’s really special and that it’s nice to see that somebody else has also done it.”


Lala (photo: Gold Circle)

Doug Campbell leads in Lala (photo: Gold Circle)

Denis says the achievement is already paying dividends.  “I’ve already seen that trainers have confidence in me.  Something like this really helps and you get better rides.  I had a fall in January and tore the ligaments in my knee and was off for six months.  When I came back, it was a little difficult.  I was running a lot of seconds and places, then I had a win for Mr Campbell and then things just got better and better.”

Denis is currently Academy Head Boy and says he thinks it is unusual to be named head boy so early.  “It is a special achievement to get it in my third year.”  In terms of future plans, he has his sights set on an apprentice championship, but admits it’s quite difficult trying to take on Lyle Hewitson.  “After champion apprentice, the next goal would be wanting to be champion jockey and then all jockeys have dreams of riding overseas in places like Hong Kong or Singapore.”

At 1.6m, Denis is a little taller than his peers, but rides comfortably at 52kgs.  “My weight went up after my injury and I’ve been struggling to get it down, so at the moment I can ride 52kgs and claim 1.5kgs comfortably.”

He is being given opportunities and is currently 5th on the apprentice log with a very respectable 8% win strike rate.

Outside interests

Although Academy life keeps him pretty busy, interests outside racing include collecting coins and watching sport and despite being from Joburg, Denis has pledged allegiance to the Sharks rugby side.

“My family are really big supporters of my riding.  Probably my biggest supporter is my step-father.  He really helps a lot and gives me a lot of advice.  He’s also my biggest critic at times.  My younger sister does show-jumping, so she also has an interest in horses and my older sister always comes and watches me ride in Johannesburg.”

Denis will be relocating to the Johannesburg Academy next year, which will allow him a little more scope to travel as well as being closer to home.  “Last year just before our main exams started, I used to go to Joburg quite a bit.  I got support there and have ridden 5 or 6 winners in Joburg now.  I’m looking forward to going there again next year.”

Although Denis has had his fair share of injury set-backs, he says he loves being a jockey.  “I’m enjoying it a lot.  It’s really a great thrill to have a winner and cross the winning post first, but just to get a horse to give its best and run to its potential is very rewarding.”

The toughest aspect of the job?  “My communication skills, but I think I’m improving.”  If he keeps riding like he did last Wednesday, he’ll be getting plenty more practice.

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4 comments on “Denis Schwarz

  1. Riëtte Brown says:

    Well done my boy, Mom and Dad and your sisters are Super Proud of you. Keep God always first and He will lead you all the way. Alle eer aan ons God for al jou seëninge xxx

  2. PC says:

    Future Star….For Laff – “Arnie” as in Schwarszenegger

  3. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    did a very good job on pantsula for the first 975m , not so good the last 25m

  4. lazarous says:

    swa u a supernatural

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