Francois Herholdt is one of South Africa’s busiest and hardest working jocks. He won the 2013 Emerald Cup on PE raider In A Rush and having returned from a year in Saudi Arabia, very nearly repeated the feat in this year’s Grand Heritage with another PE horse.
To add a little touch of magic, the 6yo Sail From Seattle gelding Classify comes with one of those wonderful little horse done good stories that racing thrives on. Although at 17’1, he’s not all that little! The Shams trained for the Van Vuurens in PE and it was around this time last year that the Van Vuurens decided to downsize their racing and announced a dispersal sale. The subject came up in conversation between Dorrie and Dr Ashley Parker during a routine stable visit and he mentioned having sold the Van Vuurens a nice 2yo that he hadn’t seen on the track. In fact, the 2yo had been led through the ring at the 2013 National 2yo Sale and knocked down for R400k. Dorrie checked the catalogue and saw him listed as an unraced 5yo. They made enquiries with Michael Azzie and found out the horse had shown promise as a 2yo, but then been sent to the farm and with one thing and another, somehow never made his way back again. So they decided to take a chance. They were the only bidders on the horse and got him for R5,000 which has turned out to be money very well spent.
A Chance Ride On The Chance Horse
Classify won on debut and from 9 starts in PE, he notched 5 wins and 4 places. Having caught the attention of the handicapper firmly by then and with PE racing switching to the poly, the Shams decided to try their luck in the Grand Heritage. Classify put up a very smart performance in the Spring Spree Stakes under Marco van Rensburg, finishing 2.5 lengths off Will Pays in fourth and qualifying for the Vaal cavalry charge.
It was during the Spring Spree that he caught Fransie’s eye. “I’d actually caused interference with Marco on this horse and he finished 4th and I finished 6th. As we pulled up I said to Marco that it had been a very good run for the horse – to get interfered with at a crucial stage and come back to finish 4th was a good performance. Marco was going to America on a family holiday and wasn’t going to be around for the Grand Heritage, and said I should phone for the ride. I’ve ridden for Mark and Dorrie in PE, so I got on the blower and asked and Mark said no problem. So that’s how I got the ride and I worked him every day from then.”
Fransie says Classify can be a bit of a handful. “He’s a nice, big horse, but is a bit headstrong and can get a bit aggressive at track work – he likes throwing his head and lunging with you a bit. Marco mentioned that you’ve got to watch him on the track a little too because he can be a handful going to the start, but I was lucky in the Heritage. I think I got him on one of his better days and he gave me a nice ride.”
Classify put up a gutsy run under his 59.5kgs to finish half a length second behind Forest Fox and Gavin Lerena, who was notching his second Grand Heritage win. It’s hard not to comment on how close Fransie got to writing his own piece of history for PE and Fransie agrees, “It would have been a fairy tale for me to win with both PE horses at the Vaal and I got close! Dorrie was over the moon with the race and ran up to lead us into the no 2 box.”
Asked to talk us through the race he says, “I knew they paid down to 15th place so I was riding to get into the money – in that field, you’ve still got to beat 18 horses to get a stake cheque,” he notes. “At one stage I thought I could maybe get into the first 6, so I was riding for 5th or 6th. Then I saw the horses coming back at him and I thought we had a chance of winning. He hit the front at just the right time. Gavin had the run of the race and followed me all the way through. He was following the right horse, because we were the only ones going forward. And then he got the better of us in the end. I was happy to run second, but sad to get beat. I hate running second, especially when we were so close. I was told afterwards that Gavin’s horse is a shirker. If we’d run a bit further apart, he might have given up,” he reflects, but there is no point dwelling on what is done. The Shams are aiming their bargain buy at the Charity Mile next and Fransie agrees that he has definitely earned his chance there.
Fransie has just returned from a year’s contract in Saudi Arabia where he was the stable jockey for Neil Bruss and the Abdulelah Abdul Aziz Almousa stable at the King Abdulaziz Field Equestrian Club in Riyadh.
The Saudi season ended at the end of August and it’s been straight back to work for the hard-working jock. “The culture there is quite different. They are very focussed on their religion and very strict on not allowing any alcohol, which one obviously has to respect.” While that might play into the hands of a jockey trying to stay fit and healthy, Fransie says it was tough having a braai and not being able to have a glass of red with your meat. “But the racing there is very good and I enjoyed working for Neil. They have a beautiful racecourse. I said back in 2003 that it was one of the nicest dirt tracks I’ve ever ridden on and I haven’t changed my mind 13 years later.”
He is also very impressed with the standard of both the racing as well as the riding, saying that in terms of race riding the other jockeys are ‘gentlemen’. “The racing is very professionally run and you feel really good walking into the parade ring. Even though it’s not widely televised, they run it as though it is being televised world-wide and everything and everyone is expected to be on your best game.”
Fransie and Neil both stayed at apartments at the King Abdulaziz Field Equestrian Club and says they were very well looked after. The training facilities are set up around the race course American style. “It’s a beautiful set-up. We had 8 barns in our complex and what Neil did with the stables in one year was unbelievable. He built a horse walker and converted one of the sections into a high security block. We called it Alcatraz and all the horses that were running on the weekend would go in there. Only Neil and the foreman had electronic thumb print entry. Neil did a lot to make it more attractive and really made it home. You wouldn’t believe some of the complexes at the racecourse – one guy really went to town with his entrance.”
Pros and Cons
Living in a desert has its drawbacks and Fransie says it was very hot dry and dusty in summer and very cold in winter. “It’s not all sun and sand, but in summer it is very hot,” he says, noting that it was 52 degrees when he left. Although Riyadh is fairly remote and living at the equestrian centre meant they missed out on some of the social life, Fransie says they made the best of it. “We started out with about 60 horses. We had a nice string and did well with what we had. I had a 29% strike rate, which is quite good, although I never had that many rides. They only race twice a week – on Fridays and Saturdays,” he explains, “but there is good sponsorship and the stake money is awesome, which is the main reason I went. Racing is very competitive in South Africa. There is a lot of competition for rides and our prize money can’t compare with what you can earn overseas.”
While it was a good year from a financial point of view, Fransie is a very big family man and it was hard being away from his wife Tracey and the children. “I missed Tracey and the kids a lot. I missed out on a lot of things like my son Kieren’s 18th birthday, getting his driver’s license and matriculating, but it was something I needed to do for my family. It was tough being away from home, but it was good and as they say, there’s no substitute for experience.”
Hitting The Ground Running
Fransie boasts a very international CV with experience in the UAE, Mauritius, South Korea and Singapore. “I enjoyed Singapore and they actually gave me an extension twice. But at the time they wanted me to come and ride in Mauritius. I said to the guy if you buy 10 horses I’ll come and ride. They bought 12 and I’m a man of my word, so I went. Barend Vorster took my place in Singapore,” he laughs ruefully. “But where one door closes, another opens.”
The 43yo lightweight is now permanently based back in Johannesburg, although he notes that he seems to be getting more rides in Kimberley and Durban than in his home town. “Obviously I would like to try and get into Cape Town – I did well there before heading overseas and would like to pick that up again. At the moment I’m doing a lot of work for the guys in Durban. I fly in a day before races, ride work in the morning, race in the evening and then fly home.” He still has a punishing travel schedule – “If you don’t ride, you don’t earn!” he laughs. “As they say, it’s tough at the top and crowded at the bottom! But I still love riding. As frustrating as it can become, it’s still a good game and I still enjoy it.”