Holidaying Lyle Aims For Top 5 Next Season

Another victorious win in the bag

The Hong Kong racing season ended on a high for multiple SA champion jockey Lyle Hewitson at Sha Tin on Saturday, when the 24 year old star registered his 27th victory of an initially roller-coaster season that ultimately buried the ghost of his previous stint in the horseracing capital of the East..

Lyle finished a joint 11th on the Hong Kong jockey log with his mounts earning gross stakes of HK$ 31 547 780 – the equivalent of R69 million at present rates of exchange.

Lyle steers HK Dragon to victory on Saturday at Sha Tin (Pic – HKJC)

While intercontinental comparisons of different jurisdictions are what they are, for what it’s worth that one season 14th place total is more than the combined stakes Lyle amassed when winning his three SA champion titles.

Enjoying a well-deserved Mediterranean getaway in Majorca Spain with his wife Hannah, Lyle told the Sporting Post that he was all of ‘happy, thrilled and proud’ at the way things had unfolded in Hong Kong and he was looking forward to enjoying the first real holiday of his life as a ‘working man’.

One tends to forget how young the extremely polite and eloquent champion really is when considering his experience and achievements in a relative short space of time.

“I matriculated and started riding – and have been riding ever since. So this is my first real holiday as an independent working person,” he laughed as he described Spain as the ‘most beautiful country with unbelievable weather’.

The man who started out as a work-rider launched the past season with a point to prove after managing only 3 winners from 251 rides during his last stretch in the city.

And when he teamed up with countryman Dougie Whyte for their combined 20th victory as HK Dragon won the Class 4 Big Profit Handicap on Saturday to give him his season-ender, it was emotional stuff.

“While I have enjoyed increased support from a number of trainers, I believe it was Douglas Whyte’s faith in my determination that turned the tide. I opened up to him and told him I was intent on breaking through and doing well. He kept on telling me that I had to make a difference. I was riding ordinary horses and getting them close. And then somebody else would get on. But then Dougie would give me another chance. At the end of the day it’s all about confidence – that’s when your luck changes, when the gaps open, when the horses start helping you,” reflects Lyle.

Doug Whyte, more than 25 years Lyle’s senior, is a legend in Hong Kong with 13 straight jockeys’ championships to his name. Lyle’s respect and admiration for the man, known as the ‘Durban Demon’ to our more senior KZN racing fans, is tangible.

“He has been a source of great inspiration and I’d like to believe we are like-minded in terms of the way we approach the sport. Dougie is very goal-orientated and performance driven. He runs an extremely professional operation. We talk a lot. It’s been a great privilege and invaluable experience,” adds Lyle.

 

Jockey Lyle Hewitson and the inspirational Doug Whyte (Pic – HKJC)

And things almost went awry, when two weeks into the new term, a shocking accident in the Gr1 Hong Kong Sprint in early December 2021 saw Lyle injured alongside eventual champion Zac Purton and Yuichi Fukunaga.

“I was out for five weeks and it takes time to recover mentally and physically. That meant I only rode for seven months effectively. That puts things into perspective and I am pleased that taking the small steps has paid dividends,” he adds maturely as he points out that the lockdown has not made things easy for everybody involved.

“The Hong Kong Jockey Club have contained the risks so professionally, and we’d all rather have the inconvenience of things like daily PCR tests and restrictions, rather than risk having racing shut down. One adjusts and copes.”

After spending six months in Hong Kong between September 2019 and early March 2020, Lyle enjoyed a successful stint in Japan with the backing of powerhouse stable Northern Farm before returning to South Africa and dominating the 2020-21 season with 263 winners and a third national title.

“I had 19 winners from I think 18 meetings including two Gr2 successes in Japan and wherever you go around the world you learn something, so it was big for my career in terms of me as a rider and as an individual,” he recalls as he now looks forward to upping his game for his next season in Hong Kong. He says that his goal is a top five finish on the Hong Kong jockey log.

With about a month free before they return to Hong Kong for a mandatory week in quarantine prior to release on 18 August, Lyle and Hannah are spending 8 days in Spain before jetting to the UK to visit family.

Like the true professional that he is, Lyle is enjoying the exotic local culinary delights, but gyms every day.

“It’s far easier to cut back on the weight when one is fit, so I won’t slack off,” he adds.

He won’t be riding in the UK this time round,  but while enjoying something of a family reunion with his Gran in Lambourne, he intends to visit trainers at Goodwood and Newmarket.

“I don’t want to race-ride when not properly prepared to, so won’t this time.”

And does he follow SA racing?

South Africa

Home is where the heart is – South Africa

Of course, my heart will always be with South Africa and if I don’t get to see the racing I monitor the results. I have friends who I keep in touch with and it’s nice to see how they are doing.”

Lyle actually selected 3 of the top 4 home in the Hollywoodbets Durban July in a poll published in the Sporting Post in the week of the big race.

“What a race! It was also really great to see the crowds back and the vibe on the big day,” he adds.

While it’s a long-term goal right now, Lyle says he is planning to return to South Africa to ride on Champions Cup day at Hollywoodbets Greyville at the end of next season. So his local fans will just have to be patient!

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