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Grant van Niekerk

Grant Van Niekerk

Grant Van Niekerk

22 year old Cape Town jockey, GRANT VAN NIEKERK has enjoyed a great start to his riding career. He completed his apprenticeship in January 2012 and almost landed South Africa’s most prestigious race, the Vodacom Durban July aboard Smanjemanje, a mere six months later. Of course, he was beaten an unlucky short head by Pomodoro. That was the closest he has come to winning a Grade 1 and it has inspired him to go one better. He is closing in on his immediate milestone i.e. 500 career wins. At the start of this season, Grant secured the plum-job of stable jockey to the powerful Mike Bass yard. He has already enjoyed considerable success for the team and currently lies in 7th position on the National Jockeys log with 54 winners. This Saturday he rides ZAMBEZI TORRENT in the Grade 1 Betting World Cape Flying Championship, for the Bass team and he hopes that the 3-year old rank outsider will give a good account of himself. Van Niekerk has also been engaged to ride the Stan Elley trained PUNTA ARENAS in next Saturday’s J&B Metropolitan. HOLLYWOODBETS.NET, SPORTING POST and WINNING FORM’s followers will be following Grant’s career with keen interest.

What is your name? Grant van Niekerk.     

What is your star sign and birthdate? Cancer. I was born on 30 June 1991.

 

Where were you born and where did you grow up? Born in Cape Town and I grew up in Bellville.

 

Where do you live? Bellville.

Tell us about your family? We are a family of 7, mom, dad, 3 sisters and 1 brother. We are very close and enjoy having family gatherings. I am very excited that I am soon to be a dad and will start a family of my own.

Do you have a ‘nickname’? I am called many things but probably the most common of them is Big John, Mr Muscles and also Coco.

Favourite food? I am very fond of chicken pasta.

Favourite drink? Passion fruit and lemonade.

Favourite music? I like all kinds of music and I suppose my mood dictates the music I listen to at the moment.

Favourite sport? Soccer.

Favourite soccer team? I am a Manchester United fan, together with hundreds of thousand other soccer fans.

Favourite holiday destination? I have been to Mauritius and really like it but would like to visit many other holiday places. 

What book are you reading at the moment? I like studying form so I am reading Winning Form and Computaform.

Which characteristic about yourself do you like the most? Even if I say so myself I try to be patient and humble. I keep my feet on the ground.

Is there anything the public don’t know about Grant van Niekerk that they would be interested to know? I like to stay active and do things which take my mind off racing, sometimes.

Who is the one person you would love to meet and why? I would like to meet Charlie Sheen as he seems to be a very unusual sort of person, far removed from the people one meets in racing.

Where did you go to school and what qualification did you achieve? I only attained my standard 9 certificate.

What tertiary education did you attain? None.

How did you become involved in horseracing? I was searching the internet looking at potential jobs when I came across an article on jockeys and the academy. It pricked my attention and I took it from there.

In which year did you become an apprentice, where were you based and who were your fellow apprentices at the academy? I joined the academy when I was 15 years old. My fellow apprentices were J.P vd Merwe, Athandiwe Mgudlwa, Tshwaro Appie and Aldo Domeyer. 

Tell us about the lifestyle at the academy and what were the obstacles that you faced? I never enjoyed the academy and I was always looking for ways to get out and go home.

Who were the riding masters at the time? Paul Gadsby and Thomas Labuschagne.

Which senior people in racing had a major influence on you during your apprentice days? Glen Kotzen, Riaan van Reenen and Mike Bass had the main influence on me.

Which senior jockey did you idolize growing up? No one really. I wanted to be my own person and do things the way they best suited me.

Tell us about your first winner? I won on Combat Leader for Glen Kotzen and the thrill of that win will stay with me forever.

Which trainers gave you the most opportunities during your early days? I would have to say Glen Kotzen, Mike Bass and Riaan van Reenen.

Mention some of the top quality horses that you were associated with during your apprentice days?   Smanjemanje, A Daughters Legacy and Cash Register.

How tough was it to make the transition to becoming a qualified jockey without any allowance? I was told it would be tough but it never really affected me. I kept doing what I was doing, worked harder and kept my feet on the ground. It all fell into place for me.

Upon qualifying as a jockey, where were you based and which trainer’s supported you? I was in Durban where Dennis Drier and Glen Kotzen helped me a lot. After two years I went to Cape Town. 

You have already been associated with some top horses during your relatively short career. You had some great success with the Tyrone Zackey trained, SMANJEMANJE. Tell us about your association with him, his tremendous ability and your most memorable moment aboard the son of Kahal? I was riding in Gauteng when Randall Simons couldn’t take his ride on Smanjemanje and I picked up the ride. There can be no doubt that my most memorable moment on him came when we ran 2nd in the July. That was an unbelievable thrill and that is what keeps me trying my best, at all times and on all the horses I ride.

How many Grade 1 winners have you had to date? I am yet to win my first Grade 1 but I have been placed quite a few times. I think I am very close to winning my first Grade 1.

How many other feature race winners have you had? I have won lots of Grade 2 and Grade 3 races.

How many winners have you ridden in your career to date? I do not have the exact figure but it is around the 450 mark. I cannot wait to reach my first milestone which is 500 winners. With the way things are going now I am sure it will not be too long before I hit that mark and then on to 1000 winners!

Mention some other top horses that you have been acquainted with? Apart from Smanjemanje I would mention Gifted For Glory, A Daughters Legacy and Helderberg Blue.

At the beginning of the season you landed the job of being trainer Mike Bass’ stable jockey. How did this come about? Mike Bass’s daughter/assistant, Candice, approached me at the races and asked me if I would like the job. At the time I was riding for trainer Glen Kotzen and we were doing well together. It was really hard for me at the time but I eventually made up my mind and took the job. I have never looked back.

There are a few top horses in the yard. HELDERBERG BLUE looks destined for the top but he has some temperamental issues as seen on Queen’s Plate day. What exactly happened in the parade ring, on the way to the start and at the start? He was just very amazed on the day. As people know there’s a lot happening on the day with all the tents being put up and the music etc. He never liked that very much. Malan du Toit is working with him back at home, and if he gets him right he will be very competitive in the future. 

Has there been any talk from the stable that he will be gelded? I have heard some talk about that but not in the stable. I doubt it very much because of his top pedigree. A lot more work will be done with him.

What sort of feel does he give you in work and in a race? What do you think his optimum distancewill be? He gives me a very good feel. I think he should be at his best over 1600-2000m.

Have you earmarked any horses as a potential winner for the J&B Met? Apart from my horse I would think Master Of My Fate, Jackson and Capetown Noir are the horses to watch.

This Saturday you have 8 rides at Kenilworth. Tell us about your rides?

Race 2: HAMMIES WILDCAT (7): I think she will prefer this 1000m and I am hoping for a big run.
Race 5: MONEY SURGER (7): She is running well and can run into the money.
Race 6: AKSARAY (6):  She has done well of late and will prefer 1200m. She could run a good race.
Race 7: ELITE JET (3): He won his maiden in good style and he could repeat that effort.
Race 8: ZAMBEZI TORRENT (13): I feel he will enjoy the 1000m and I hope he will run a big race.
Race 9: CELTIC JET (3): He is badly drawn. If we overcome the draw I expect to be right there.
Tell us about the horses that you are likely to ride in the following feature races on J&B Met day:
Summer Juvenile Stakes – SEVEN GRAND. She is a good filly but has the Snaith’s horse to beat.
InvestecDerby – MOUNTAIN MASTER. He has improved after his maiden win and will improve with time.
Klawervlei Majorca Stakes – LANNER FALCON. She is better drawn this time and I am hoping for an improved run.
J&B Jet Stayers – GIFTED FOR GLORY. I have a high opinion of him and am expecting him to be involved.

Mention a few of the unraced horses that you have ridden in work that the public can follow in the future? I can’t exactly point them out, there are very nice babies coming through which are doing very well.

How many times a week do you ride work for the Bass yard? Which other trainers do you ride work for? I work 5 days a week and most of my working hours are with the stable.

Trainer Bass is likely to be raiding KZN during the winter season. Will you be based in KZN or will you travel between Durban and Cape Town? I haven’t spoken to the boss about that yet but my choice would be to travel.

Do you currently have a sponsor? If so, who are they? Yes, I do. Kuda Insurance. They are very supportive and I could not ask for better.

List the benefits of having a sponsor? They sponsor my riding gear and I get a salary every month.

What is your optimum riding mass? 52kg’s.

Who is your favourite overseas jockey? There are a few. Hopefully, I will be the favourite overseas jockey one day in the future.

The prize put up by Klawervlei for the season’s winning jockey is very worthwhile. Are you tempted to make a real effort to compete for that prize? Yes, but I will wait until the time is right. One of my great ambitions is to be the South African champion jockey.

Which is the one Grade 1 race that you would like to win most? After running 2nd in the Vodacom Durban July, and to feel that rush, it has to be the race to win.

How intense do you study form and do you make it your duty to watch replays of all the country’s racing? It’s always good to know who your opponents are around you in a race so I make sure I study. There’s racing practically every day in South Africa so if I were to watch all the racing replays I wouldn’t have a life!   

What has been the most exciting moment in your career to date? Without a doubt running 2nd in the July has to top the list. The feeling I had in that moment is difficult to describe and I would like more moments like that. 

Do you do anything extra outside of riding work and race riding to keep yourself fit? Yes, I really enjoy being active. I enjoy the occasional indoor cricket with my mates as well.

Do you enjoy studying pedigrees and which stallions really excite you? Jet Master and Dynasty are tops in my book. 

What advice can you offer to youngsters who wish to become a successful jockey? Never be intimidated, work hard and always do your best.

What are your short/long term ambitions for yourself in the racing game? I really want to have my 1st group 1 win and become S.A champion jockey.

Does the old maxim, “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman,” apply to Grant van Niekerk? Yes, I am very fortunate. Nicole, my girlfriend of 3 years, is behind me all the way and supports me in all that I do.

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