Gr1 Cape Guineas winning jockey Grant Behr is a quiet, modest, almost introverted gentleman who has probably never promoted his skills in the saddle the way he should have.
A long-time supporter, Dean Kannemeyer threw him a potential lifechanger when Russian Rock soared down the outside to win the prestigious Cape classic at a sunny Kenilworth on Saturday.
While he has played second fiddle to big name jockeys for longer than he cares to remember, Grant recalled that most of his feature winners have been for the Kannemeyer team.
“I won the Gr2 Selangor Cup in 2004 on Mercury Chief, when we beat more fancied stablemate Rabiya. Also in 2004 I won the Gr3 Peninsula Handicap on Roman Charger for Mr Kannemeyer. In 2015 I won the Listed Southeaster Sprint on Captain Alfredo for the same yard. So he has been good to me. And I like his no-nonsense style. Like his Dad, he is a man who never blames the easiest target – the jockey. There is never any ‘fiffing or faffing’ afterwards. It’s a case of tomorrow is another day. It gives one confidence.”
Grant says that the pre-race instructions for Russian Rock were also simple – ‘you know he is well, he will be running at them late – just don’t panic’.
Grant rode Russian Rock in work and said he told the boss he would just about win his next race.
“I didn’t know it was the Guineas though! I saw the Cape Guineas runners list on the web and Russian Rock had no jockey for some time. I thought – should I ring Mr Kannemeyer? A half hour later he phoned me and told me I had the ride!”
The 42 year old returned to his Pniel home and his family on Saturday evening after having achieved the biggest win of his career.
“My Mom Lorraine, wife Lanese and six year old daughter Cassidy were sitting there. They looked a bit puzzled as they hadn’t watched the Guineas. I had said I was riding at 16h00 – but the race was at 16h45. But they had received a whole bunch of whatsapps and were sort of waiting to see if it was real!” laughs Grant.
“It was an emotional moment for us as the reality dawned. My Dad Basil was my biggest fan. He passed away three years ago. He would have been so proud. We had a sip of bubbly that just happened to be in the fridge. I went outside to water my garden and we had a normal family dinner,” he says modestly.
But surely Gr1 winning jockeys go upstairs to the suites after races to be feted and hosted by the winning connections?
“That’s never been my way of doing things. Maybe that’s one of the areas I have been lacking! I choose to rather go home to my family – at the end of every raceday – Gr1 winner or maiden last place – they are my biggest supporters. And it’s been a hard and tough year for all of us. I couldn’t have hoped in my wildest dreams for 2020 to end in a better way. I have kept my faith and belief,” he smiles.
After encountering traffic issues 250m from home, Grant had to gather Russian Rock up and sent him to catch Linebacker, who looked the likely winner inside the distance. It was a supremely confident and polished ride.
“I managed to get him to settle and he was always going well. If he was a bigger horse he may not have recovered from that incident at the 250m and have been able to gather his stride as he did so smartly. I have no doubt we would have won going away by a wider margin had we not run into any obstacles!”
The second youngest in a two brother and two sister family headed by Dad Basil and Mom Lorraine, Grant grew up near Kuils River in the Cape.
His late Dad had seen his own dreams of being a jockey shattered by the apartheid restrictions of the time and he was determined that his athletically lean son Grant would carry the Behr flag at the SA Jockey Academy.
The wide-eyed Capetonian walked through the SAJA gates in 1993 to commence his career adventure and joined Kelvin Jupp, Julian Gadsby, Nicky Hanekom, Genevieve Michel and the late Bennie Norton.
“I enjoyed my academy years. It was tough but the camaraderie was warm and many friendships were forged,” he adds.
Grant was apprenticed to trainer Steve Benton and rode his first winner at Hollywoodbets Scottsville on 2 September 1995 on the Our Casey’s Boy filly Perky Prefect, who started at 12-1.
He was transferred back to his hometown, and after the local Academy closed, he stayed with Garth Puller and the late Trudi Houreau.
“I learnt a lot from Garth. A real horseman and a gentleman who could write the definitive textbook on race-riding,” adds Grant.
Grant rode his first Cape winner on the Glen Puller-trained Galba mare Flashy Star, who scored on her debut in a Mixed Maiden at Milnerton on 24 May 1997
Interestingly in third place that day was subsequent Diadem Stakes winner speedster Okukama, ridden by Garth Puller. The Jallad gelding would eventually coincidentally also provide Grant’s first year SAJA classmate Genevieve Michel with one of her peak career triumphs when winning the Gr2 Diadem Stakes on 5 December 1998.
Grant got opportunities in the 2002 and 2006 seasons with the Gujadhur family to ride in Mauritius. While he only rode a handful of winners on the island, he says the experience on the tight Champ de Mars circuit was well received.
More recently, he also rode the first of two winners on exported rising star Katak.
“A magnificent horse and I know I did nothing wrong. But that happens. It’s human nature I suppose that when a horse becomes a big horse, trainers look to tighten up and find the big race jockeys. But reaction through sulking and surly behaviour won’t improve the situation. It’s hard work in the mornings and then hopefully also being given a few more chances. I am so pleased that I won the Guineas for Messrs Shirtliff, Ressell and Longmore. They are major owners and I am really chuffed!”
Grant can ride at 54kgs and he is in peak fitness. He says he is going to put his shoulder to the wheel and turn Saturday’s success into better things.
“I know I rode my first Gr1 winner in Christmas week, but I’m definitely not a Christmas jockey! I am a capable balanced rider. I need to create more opportunities, stay away from negativity and work harder. Decent rides make decent jockeys. Winners create the momentum for more winners. And I’m doing it for my family – one cannot find greater motivation than that!”