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Diego De Gouveia

Second Time's A Charm

Diego De Gouveia (photo: Gold Circle)

Diego De Gouveia (photo: Gold Circle)

A few months ago we covered the story of Cupking and his owner’s madcap cross country caper to be at the races to see him win. On board for that gutsy finish was apprentice rider, Diego De Gouveia, currently in joint second position on the National Apprentice log.


James Maree

James Maree – owed a lot

Diego hasn’t taken the conventional route to becoming a jockey. Apart from the odd ride on a hack during holidays in the Drakensberg, the Academy was the first time he rode a horse. He grew up in Edenvale in Johannesburg and went to school with Callan Murray. In fact, the two boys applied to the Academy together. “We both applied and never looked back since.”

Their paths split after their first year, when Diego decided to leave at the end of 2012. “I was really unhappy, but I was very young and rebellious at the time and didn’t enjoy the discipline, so I went back to Joburg. I carried on riding though, because I have an immense passion for horses and racing and was determined to be a jockey. Mr James Maree said he could help get me into the work riders programme. He told me to just keep riding work and do his courses in the meantime. Mr Gary Waterston also helped me a lot in the mornings and gave me lots of pointers. When I rode in work riders’ races, him and Mr Maree used to give me advice afterwards. They both played a major role in teaching me the basics and I owe them a lot.”

Along with Serino Moodley, Diego arranged to spend a year riding in Zimbabwe, staying with a few other apprentices at the Zim Academy. “It took a few months for my license to be approved, but Zim gave me an opportunity to work with different horses. Although things are difficult up there, it was a lovely experience to ride somewhere different and Borrowdale is one of the most beautiful courses I have ridden on. I was freelancing, which was pretty tough because there are a lot of South African guys coming up and taking most of the top rides, but we were getting full cards, and getting great race riding experience.”

Second time lucky

Diego De Gouveia

‘If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life’

Diego came home in October 2015 and spent the next few months riding work before rejoining the Academy in January 2016. Has it been a smoother ride this time round? “So much better,” he enthuses. “Being a bit older than I was and having my mind set on a goal and wanting to make it, all makes it a lot easier. Lots of other things have changed as well and I’m enjoying it a lot more this time.”

What does he enjoy about it most? “The early mornings. No really!” he laughs. “My thinking is if you enjoy what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life. I love being with the horses. If could be there every day I would. I love going to stables in the morning and I love the build up to races, trying to get the best rides and trying to improve and do better than last time.”

Is he quite competitive? “I’ve got a very competitive personality. I always want to win, which can sometimes be bad. I can’t stand losing. If I have to run second, let it be a few lengths, not a heads up, heads down!”

Successful association

Bye Bye Baby, Diego De Gouveia, Paul Lafferty

Successful partnership – Diego and Paul Lafferty (photo: Gold Circle)

Diego has struck up a good relationship with Paul Lafferty, thanks to a chance booking. “It was an apprentice race. I didn’t have a ride and Mr Laff put me on a horse. I rode a dirty 6th or 7th and he was happy with the ride and I thought ‘that’s alright!’ I didn’t give it a lot of thought at first – one starts out trying to ride for all the big stables and trying to get a break, which is maybe the wrong way to go about it,” he muses. “I thought I’d give it a try and see where it goes. I started going to work there and I started getting a ride here and a ride there and now I basically ride everything. It’s great because you get to know the horses in the string really well and Mr Laff is great to work for. He’s such a fair man. If a big jockey phones for a ride, 9 times out of 10, a trainer will drop you and one can’t blame them. Those guys have the experience and everyone wants them on their horse. In that respect Mr Laff is very fair and if you ride a 2nd or 3rd, he’ll be loyal and say ‘keep the kid on the horse.’”

“I also ride a lot of work for Mr Drier and have had quite a few winners for him. I was lucky that my first few rides for him were winners. It’s not often that Mr Drier gives apprentices opportunities, but he’s an incredible teacher. You can win a race and he’ll ask ‘why did you go so early?’ He’s a lovely man to be associated with and I help were I can. Another person who has helped get me on track is Anthony Delpech. I used to do his kit and I learnt a lot from him. Now that I have more rides, I don’t have time to do kit anymore, but he’s an exceptional rider and someone I really look up to.”

Apprentice Abroad

Along with Colin Ncobo, Diego was selected to attend the British Racing School as well as gaining valuable experience working for the William Haggas yard which Diego thoroughly enjoyed. “It was a lovely experience. The way they do things there is very different and as a rider you do a lot more of the work yourself. It made me respect our grooms a lot more. In South Africa, we’re very fortunate to have the grooms we have. The work they do is incredible. There the jockeys all saddle up their own horses – there is no such thing as horses walking and jockeys just getting on and off. You do all the hard graft as well as the riding out. I think it’s actually a better way. You get to know each horse a bit better by spending that time in the stable with it. Saddling up you learn what to expect, what kind of horse you’ve got and what kind of a mood they’re in and being on that horse for about an hour, you get more of a connection and bond. I definitely like the way they do things there. It’s very thorough.”

Mr Haggas’ yard is extremely professional and has all the equipment you can think of – treadmills, spas – the horses get the best of everything. Everything is very organised. There’s an electronic notice board, so when you get there in the morning, you know whether you’re doing 3 or 4 horses, it tells you which horses you are riding and what work to do. If you’re riding X, you go to that horse’s stable and each stable has a box outside with that horse’s kit. Some use French saddles, some use Australian saddles – it’s all on the board outside the stable door – the type of girth, everything. While you’re ringing in the yard, Mr Haggas will check your instructions with you and then he’ll normally let you ring a few more times and send you out.”

Two weeks at the Haggas yard was followed by an intensive one week international apprentice course at the British Racing School. “They taught us different ways to use a whip, how to judge pace and how to do times. Then you’d actually go and do a practical. You would take a horse and they would drive next to you in a car and you’d have to try and estimate how many furlongs a minute you were doing. We also did a lot of Equiciser work. I was a really nice all round experience.”

There was some time off too and Diego and Calvin got to do a bit of sight seeing and even to a live football match. “We met a lot of different people, we got to go racing at Epsom and see the Investec Derby trial – that was a really great experience. Everyone in Newmarket was so friendly and hospitable and everyone at the British Racing School was willing to lend a helping hand with whatever we needed.”

Back to work

Diego De Gouveia and Eric Ngwane

Diego with fellow apprentice, Eric Ngwane

Diego is enjoying Durban and plans to focus on finding a niche for himself there. He is in the same intake as Calvin Ncgobo, Eric Ngwane, Serino Moodley and Lyle Hewitson. Does he have designs on an apprenticeship title? “I’m currently tied for second with Eric Ngwane. Lyle is out in front by a ridiculous margin, but such is life. We don’t get to race ride every day like he does yet. It’s difficult to do much travelling at this stage. Lyle helped me get into PE and I rode for Yvette Bremner and rode a winner there. I went a few more times, but the travel is quite expensive and being an apprentice, we don’t make as much as the jockeys do, so we end up losing money. It’s all about being able to get rides. People might know you, but to get the good rides and make it work is tougher. Lyle has already made a name for himself, we are still getting there.”

Part of being a jockey is chasing for rides. How does he find that part of the job? “I’m quite a people person and am quite outspoken, which sometimes gets me in trouble. I don’t find it difficult to ask, but you’ve got to go about it in the right way. If you get shot down, that’s the game. You’re not going to get every ride,” he says pragmatically. “You try and get on the best horse and then the second best horse and so on until you crack one. Some days it’s hard, but then you get those days where you get the good ones and you get 2 or 3 winners on the card, which is good.”

Looking ahead

Diego already has a few doubles under his belt, but is still chasing his first feature success. He is hoping Tsogo Sun Sprint day might change that. Other immediate goals are to try for the KZN apprentice championship. “It’s close between Eric Ngwane and me. I was 4 or 5 wins clear, but missed out on a couple while I was in England and Eric managed to catch me. But that’s my main goal for the KZN season. Beyond that, it’s tough against Lyle and the support he has – one needs support and you need to travel – so next year I will focus on travel and will try to get as many centres as I can.”

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