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Ian Sturgeon

Ian Sturgeon

Ian Sturgeon

IAN STURGEON (28), or fish, as he is so cleverly nick named, is one of a new breed of jockey who came into the game with no background in racing. His father had a share in a horse with Corinne Bestel and during a grooms strike he became involved in riding a bit of work before school. This earned him the wrath of the riding masters at the Academy as the rule was that one had to be over the age of 16 to ride work on Gold Circle property. He then learnt to ride work on 2 retired racehorses through the cane fields at home. He started his apprenticeship in 2000. After moving to Cape Town he returned to KZN towards the end of his 5th year of his apprenticeship and got the stable jockey job with Michael Roberts. Early on he rode some fine horses starting with Gold Tax who was then near the end of his career. He rates West Coast Gold as one of the best he rode early on but says he had a temperament problem.  He rates Antious as one of the better sprinters he has ridden.  He has bitter sweet memories of Sushishan’s 2nd in the July. Recently he has ridden Doug Campbell’s Kings Bay who he reckons can get along a bit. In recent times he has moved to Gauteng where he is making his mark. Right now he is in 34th spot on the National Jockey’s log but the way he is going he should move up the log quickly. HOLLYWOODBETS.NET, SPORTING POST and WINNING FORM will be following Ian’s progress with keen interest.

What is your name? Ian Sturgeon.

What is your star sign and birthdate? Pisces, 9th March 1985 and I am 28 years old.

Where were you born and where did you grow up? Born in Hamiltons Bawn, Northern Ireland. Moved to SA when I was 8. Grew up on a farm on the Dolphin Coast, went to Northwood before entering the SA Jockeys academy.

Where do you live? Flamingo’s Nest Guest House, Benoni, JHB.

Tell us about your family? Parents, Robbie and Linda, still live on a farm on the coast with some horses. Dad is a self-employed pest controller. Mom is his, and my, bookkeeper/PA. My sister, Zoe, 7 years younger than me and is an exceptional musician and singer. She is engaged to Jared Garland.

Do you have a ‘nickname’? Fish or Sturgy.

Favourite food? Fillet with mash (gotta have your spuds).

Favourite drink? Organic energy lite, 32Gi, after races with lots of ice.

Favourite music? Rock eg. Rush and Fall Out Boy.

Favourite sport? Football.

Favourite soccer team? Chelsea.

Favourite holiday destination?  Mediterranean.

Favourite author? Martha Beck.

What book are you reading at the moment? 50 Shades Darker.

Which is the characteristic about yourself that you like most? Honesty and compassion.

Is there anything the public don’t know about Ian Sturgeon that they would be interested to know? We try to find good homes for ex-racehorses. Some horses are not great race horses but would make great hacks, show jumpers etc.

Where did you go to school? Umhlali Primary and Northwood, before the academy.

What tertiary education did you attain? Still learning.

How did you become involved in horseracing? Persuaded by his friends, Charles Bannister and Barbra Shinglar, my dad bought a share in a race horse with Corinne Bestel. During a grooms strike, I helped pull out horses in the mornings before school and rode a little bit of work. Some of the Academy riding masters disapproved as Gold Circle had a rule that you had to either be an apprentice at the academy or over the age of 16 to ride work on their property. I was 12, but, thankfully, one of Corinne’s owners, Urban Badenhorst was retiring 2 horses and my dad allowed me to take them to learn how to ride work through the canefields at home. Worked out well in the end.

In which year did you become an apprentice, where were you based and who were your fellow apprentices at the academy? Started in 2000, after matric. At the end of 2002 I moved to ride in Cape Town and returned toward the end of my 5th and last year of apprenticeship to try and get the job as Michael Roberts’ stable jockey, which I pulled off. Kevin Derere, Charles Ndlovu and Vicky Badenhorst were all in my year. I did Bernard Fayd’Herbe’s kit.

Tell us about the lifestyle at the academy and what were the obstacles that you faced? Made to work hard which I’m glad now as it stood me in good stead to handle the work load as a jockey. Fell off a few times in my first year and broke my arm on 2 occasions which stifled my progress. My dad wanted to pull me out after the second break but luckily I managed to persuade him to allow me to stay.

Who were your riding masters at the time? Vincent Curtis, Dean Russel, David Cave’, Paul Gadsby and Gary Rich.

Which senior people in racing had a major influence on you during your apprentice days? Jeff Lloyd was my major influence. He has a great way of switching horses off and getting them to quicken. I enjoyed watching Weichong and Piere too. We are spoilt with a lot of talented South African jockeys so it wasn’t hard to see good riding on a regular basis. As far as trainers go, most of my early winners came from Clodagh Shaw, Paul Lafferty, Des Egdes and Belinda Impey.

Which senior jockey did you idolize growing up? Lester Piggott.

Tell us about your first winner? A real pony sized racehorse called Paddys Prospect. That was  quite fitting as I am from Northern Ireland. Trained by Julie Dittmer, who has given numerous apprentices their first winner.

Which trainers gave you the most opportunities during your early days? Michael Roberts.

Mention some of the top quality horses that you were associated with during you apprentice days? I rode a very good horse called Gold Tax toward the end of his illustrious career. Also some good ones in Tara’s Touch, Imperial Triumph, Sleek Brashee, Chief Warrior, Lets Be Cool, I’m Like Hello, Silver Empire, West Coast Gold, Tropical Empire, Medicine Man and Night News.

How tough was it to make the transition to becoming a qualified jockey without any allowance? I lost my claim, whilst still an apprentice, after my 50th winner and ended up making it to 109 before leaving the safety of the academy. The most difficult part was my very first meeting as a jockey. The academy failed to get my jockeys licence before my qualification date, so I was taken off a full card of rides. I was an exception and I guess these things happen but it wasn’t the start I was looking forward to, especially as the academy didn’t give me any money, that I had earned, until after my first month as a jockey. I had a very modest start.

Upon qualifying as a jockey, where were you based and which trainer’s supported you? Based in Durban, supported by Michael Roberts.

You did a lot of riding for trainer Muis Roberts early on in your career. What were the great lessons that you learnt from him? Firstly not to call him Muis. I learnt about pace and a lot of horsemanship skills to get the best out of each individual. He made it quite clear that the best jockey gets the best rides and the best rides make a top jockey. Bit of a catch 22. When I asked him if he thought I could ever be a top South African jockey, he replied that I might get a little heavy and that will make it difficult. Andrew Fortune won the championship the very next season making it very clear that I can’t use my weight (which isn’t that bad) as an excuse. He explained that racing is all about pace and to put horses in the right place and if they are good enough they will win. He said a horse that normally comes from off the pace can win from the front if the pace is very slow and ridden correctly and vice versa. I learnt to trust my instincts as he rarely gave me instructions which I responded very well to.

Mention some other top horses that you have been acquainted with? Recently I got to ride a horse called Kings Bay who can get along a bit. Antious stands out as one of the better sprinters I’ve won on and Sushisan’s 2nd in the July still brings back bitter sweet memories. Maelstrom who ran 2nd in the SA Fillies sprint was decent too. Silver Empire, Tropical Empire and West Coast Gold were all good, in fact I think West Coast Gold was the best of the lot but lost it mentally as he has a heated pedigree and it came to the fore after his first year of racing.

How many winners have you ridden? To date, 428.

How many Grade 1 races have you won? None.

How many feature races have you won? Not many but I am working on it.

What is your optimum riding mass? Optimum – 58-60kgs (where I can have breakfast) and my bottom weight 54.

Have you relocated to Gauteng or will you be travelling between Gauteng and KZN? I have relocated to Gauteng and am staying in Flamingos Nest Guest house at the moment which serves me well as I can get all my meals here if I wish, a maid service, comfortable room and great views over the pan with flamingos and loads of other bird life, which is an escape from the normal JHB lifestyle. I will be flying down to Durban for most of the meetings which don’t clash.

Who are the trainers that you ride for in Gauteng? All of them. I am freelancing but Spike Lerena, Roy Magner, St John Gray, Jurgen Van Heerden, Geoff Woodruff, Ormond Ferraris, Weiho Marwing, Gary Alexander, Chesney Van Zyl, Dominic Zaki, Coenie De Beer, John Vos and Sean Tarry have all put me on horses since my move.

Who are the trainers that you ride for in KZN? Mainly Frank Robinson and Doug Campbell.

Which horses that you have ridden will be worth following in the future? Young up and coming horses like Zephira. She gave me a good feel although she was beating a moderate bunch in her 2nd start.

Are there any younger unraced horses that you have ridden in work that will be worth following in the future? I don’t know many of their names but one I do know is a nice horse called American Tiger trained by Spike Lerena and owned by Clive Barnard. It is still early days but he is doing things the right way right now.

What would you say is the main difference to riding in Gauteng as compared to riding in KZN?  The longer straights and I am enjoying the more galloping style tracks.

The Cape season is in full swing now. Will you be aiming to get rides during the season? If so, which trainers do you think will help? There is only really one horse I would have any chance of riding at the moment and that is Kings Bay. He is talented and can show in some of the features down there. Any chances to compete in the features down there would be welcome. I’m hungry for success.

What are your long/short term plans for yourself as a jockey? Short term, I am building a rapport with the trainers in JHB and aim to start riding more and more winners every meeting. Long term, I would love to win the championship which I believe a lot of jockeys are capable of with the required support.

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? In time, absolutely.

Do you think the attitudes of apprentices have changed since the time you were in the academy? Yes, we were heavily disciplined and bullied a bit which made us slightly more respectful. Obviously the bullying was uncalled for but it does change you as a person and toughens you up. Now the bullying is at an all-time minimum thankfully.

Can you name a few apprentices that you think will hold their own once they qualify from the jockey academy? Keagan De Melo, Collen Storey, Craig Zackey, Jose Barnes and others.

Apart from work riding and race riding do you do anything extra to keep yourself in peak condition? I don’t because I don’t want to put on weight in un-needed muscle.

You are a professional jockey and you earn your living by it. Apart from racing is there anything else you are passionate about? I love my ex racehorse, Gleneagles. He is now a show jumper and I ride him whenever I get the chance which unfortunately isn’t very often.

As a jockey have you any suggestions as to how to get more people to come racing? Not an easy task. Possibly having concerts with really popular musicians at the racecourse. Encourage younger people to come racing. Encourage smaller shares to become available in horses. I am no politician or marketer so am not really the right person to ask.

Does the old maxim, “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman,” apply to Ian Sturgeon? It did for a while but not any longer. Men are from Mars, women from Venus. I specialize in horsemanship, not relationships, possibly something I should diversify into, to create a balanced life. Or so my sports psychologist suggests.

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