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Gavin Venter

Gavin Venter

Gavin Venter

The name GAVIN VENTER (53) has been synonymous with Port Elizabeth racing for close on four decades. After hanging up his jockey breeches a couple of years ago, the sixteen time PE champion jockey has taken on a different role in his favourite sport. He continues to be the face of Eastern Cape racing and is now the on-course Tellytrack presenter in the province. His knowledge of the thoroughbred, insight into the Tara Laing stable, coupled with his astute form studying has quickly made him a firm favourite with punters. He is well-renowned for his PA selections and in his brief tipping career, he has already tipped five winners on an eight race card.

Venter has earmarked two promising juvenile fillies from the Alan Greeff yard viz. WINTER FANTASY and YOSHIE as horses to follow in the future, and with the pair contesting Friday’s Fillies Nursery, it could pay healthy dividends to take heed of his advice. We have always had great admiration for Gavin Venter and know that he will continue to be a successful on-course presenter in the friendly city.


What is your name and age?  Gavin Peter Venter and I am 53 years old.

What is your star sign and birthdate?  Taurus. 3 May 1959.

Where were you born?  Estcourt.

Where do you live?  Port Elizabeth with Tara and Ewan.  

Tell us about your family?  I have two brothers and I am engaged to Tara.

Do you have a ‘nickname’?  Stickman.

Favourite food?  Peri-Peri chicken, the hotter the better!

Favourite drink?  Graham Beck “Waterside” Chardonnay.

Favourite music?  Eric Clapton.

Favourite book?  Computaform.

What are you reading at the moment?  The newspaper.

Favourite sport?  Horse racing.

Are you interested in soccer and, if so, which is your favourite soccer team?  I am not interested at all.

Favourite holiday destination?  Fancourt.

What tertiary qualification did you achieve?  Std. 8.

Where were you born and brought up?  I was born in Estcourt and brought up in Durban.

Where did you go to school?  Durban then moved to Rustenburg.

Were any of your family involved, or interested, in horse racing?  Yes, my grandfather won the Durban July in 1932 on Findhorn for trainer E. Ryan.

When did you first start taking an interest in horses and more especially horse racing?  It was my mother’s decision to send me to the academy.

As a youngster did you have the opportunity to be involved with horses?  No not at all.

Did any of your family members have any association with owners, trainers or jockeys?  My mother did because of my grandfather.

Who were the people who had the most influence on your decision to become a jockey?  My late mother Gloria Venter.

Which jockey academy did you attend?  I was based at the academy in Durban.

Who were your fellow apprentices?  Felix Coetzee, Gary and Russel Waterston.

Who was the first trainer you worked for?  Stanley Greeff.  

Tell us how long you were with him and how valuable was that experience?  I was with Stanley for 20 years and I valued every single day riding for him.

Which were the best horses you worked with early in your career?  Western Wind, Polly Bisque, Blue Nile and Springing Leopard.

You have spent the better part of your career in Port Elizabeth. Where else have you ridden?  90% in PE, six years in Cape Town and a short stint in Mauritius.

Was there ever a time when you considered leaving Port Elizabeth and moving to another province?  Yes, I gave Cape Town a bash and I thoroughly enjoyed it.   

You and trainer Stanley Greeff had a long and successful association. When did it start?  I was in my third year of being an apprentice when I joined Stanley.

Which were some of the major races you won with Stanley?  Four Derby’s, The Fillies Nursery in Cape Town and many features in Port Elizabeth.

Which was the best horse you won on for Stanley?  Western Wind.

What were some of the things you learnt with Stanley that you will always remember?  That he was the best trainer of fillies I have ever seen.

Which other trainers did you ride for?  Shew, plenty, too many to name.

You are pretty tall to be a jockey. What is your actual height?  I am 1,67m.

Did you have to, in anyway, change your riding style due to the fact that you are taller than most jockeys?  Yes, I didn’t sit too short in the saddle.

What did you like most about being a jockey?  The thrill and adrenaline rush of winning a race.

What was the most memorable day you had as a jockey?  I had so many, every day was memorable.

How many grade 1 winners did you ride?  None, unfortunately.

How many feature race winners did you have?  So many, I’ve lost count.

Which were the major feature races you won?  Four Derby’s, plenty of Nursery’s, The Chairman’s Cup and many others.

How many races did you win in your career?  I had 1575 winners from 15423 rides.

How many years, in total, did you ride? All in all I rode for 36 years. Of all the jockeys who were riding when I started only Felix Coetzee is still riding.

What were the highlights of your career? I had six winners in one meeting and five winners on three occasions. I was champion jockey for sixteen years, I broke Roy Curling’s record of fourteen years as champion jockey.

What advice would you give to any young man, or woman, who asked you about becoming a jockey?  Work hard and never ever give up.

What was the reason you gave up riding?  Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Has the attitude of apprentice or jockey’s changed much in recent times?  Definitely. The apprentices have it far too easy nowadays. In my time we had to work in a stable yard and had to do stable duties.

What other members of your family are really keen on racing?  Tara’s son Ewan is 11 years old and he is an avid supporter of racing.

For the past 9 years your partner has been Tara Laing. How did you get together?  Tara worked for Snaith racing and I rode for her. It was ironic as we were both going through a divorce at the same time. 

Tara is doing exceptionally well right now. Do you consider yourself her full time assistant?  Yes, I am her right hand man.

Do you ever ride work on any of the horses which are doing really well?  Yes, I ride all the main runners to see how fit and well they are.

Which of Tara’s horses do you rate the best at the moment?  The small horse with the big heart, Drill Sargeant.

Do you and Tara feel it is a big responsibility looking after the Jooste horses in PE?  Yes it’s a huge responsibility but, then again, to look after any animal is a responsibility.   

For a while now you have been Tellytrack analyst at the races. How did this come about?  Rod McCurdy moved to Jo’burg and I was approached to take over.

How enjoyable do you find this job?  I was really nervous in the beginning but now it’s like water off a ducks back.

How much pre-race studying do you do in order to give your best advice?  At least 3-4 hours the day before races. The racecard is my bible.

How much of an ‘edge’ do you think it gives you having ridden and trained for so many years?  It certainly has helped a lot. I like to look at the horse in the ring and when they canter down.

How often do you have a punt on a horse you have been strong about on air?  If I fancy a certain horse, I will have a small wager. I am not a big gambler. I prefer my pa’s.

When advising viewers are you, in any way, partial to the horses from Tara’s stable?  No, not at all. I sit on both sides of the fence, and take everything at face value.

By the same token are you sometimes wary of tipping Tara’s horses to the public?  Nope, not at all.  

What is the best tipping day you have had? It was the day I tipped 5 winners.

What do you think of trainers who criticize jockeys when they are beaten?  I believe they talk from their pockets.

Which PE horses do you think will be worth following over the next couple of months?  Drill Sargeant, Winter Fantasy and Yoshie.

Which are the horses you would consider to be worth following around the country? Variety Club, Cherry On The Top, Tellina, Via Africa and Mujaarib.

There is some exciting racing in Port Elizabeth on Friday. Which are some of your fancies for the day?

Race 4: DESERT EMBLEM (3) – He ran on well at the finish last time and looks ready to run a big race here.

Race 5: OCEAN’S SWIFT (1) – She is the best bet on the card. Her last run in the Cape was top class and she could be hard to beat here.

Race 6: Is the Breeders Guineas. My stable has TUDOR STAR (4) running here. She is very well but, in my opinion, has COUNT TO TEN (1) to beat.

Race 7: East Cape Fillies Nursery. I think the winner will come from one of trainer Alan Greeff’s runners, WINTER FANTASY (8) or YOSHIE (9). Fortunately, for Pick 6 punters, they are coupled.

Race 8: OUR DIZZY EMBLEM (2) and ASPEN ANGLE (3) both have chances but, in my opinion, Our Dizzy Emblem is the pick.

How much interest do you take in breeding?  I have started to take more interest now because of Tara.

Are there any stud farms you visit on a regular basis?  No.

Which stallion’s progeny would you like to see in your yard?  Sail From Seattle.

Despite the intense rivalry amongst PE trainers they all stand together on major issues. Do you think this could be the reason PE racing is thriving?  Yes.

What changes would you like to see in PE to make it even stronger?  We need more stables to be built.  

Do you watch all SA racing on TV? I watch all the feature races around the country but I watch all the racing in PE as I only back horses in PE.

If circumstances forced you to earn a living outside of racing what would you do?  Play golf.

What are your future ambitions in the racing game?  To do as I am doing now and support Tara in her training career as long as I live.

The saying is “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman”. Does this apply to Gavin Venter?  Oh yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Tara is very good, she has a sharp eye and is a book of knowledge with horses. She will go a long way in the training ranks.

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