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JP van der Merwe

JP van der Merwe

JP van der Merwe

Professional jockey JUAN PAUL VAN DER MERWE celebrates his 23rd birthday on December 28, which makes him a Capricorn. He is one of a young band of South African jockeys and trainers who are ably stepping forward to fill the ranks of those preparing to pass the baton on to the younger generation. With no real background into racing, it was on JP’s father suggestion that he applied and was accepted into the South African Jockey’s Academy in 2007. His fellow apprentices at the time were Gareth Wright, Tshwaro Appie, Grant van Niekerk and Athandiwe Mgudlwa. All these jockeys, along with JP have progressed steadily through their careers and are enjoying decent success. Van Der Merwe is a friendly, intelligent and hard-working young man and this is probably the reason he has always enjoyed good support from top trainers. His major success to date has been winning the OK Gold Bowl on Winning Leap for trainer Dominic Zaki. He has recently secured the plum job of stable jockey to top Cape trainer Glen Kotzen and has already achieved satisfactory results this season. Hardly surprisingly, he has been associated with some quality three-year olds, of which he rates Antonius Du Bois, the pick of the Kotzen yard. He will be partnering the son of Antonius Pius in this Saturday’s Grade 1, R1 million Grand Parade Cape Guineas to be run over a mile on Kenilworth’s summer course. We will be following JP’s progress in the race and in his future endeavours with particular interest and wishes him well for the future.


What is your name?  Juan-Paul van der Merwe.

What is your star sign and birthdate?   Capricorn and I was born on 28 December 1990.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?  Born in JHB.  Moved to PE with my family when I was 12.

Where do you live?  At present I am boarding with Gareth Wright, Table View, Cape Town.

Tell us about your family? Both my parents live in PE and I have a younger brother.

Do you have a ‘nickname’?  All my old school friends know me as ‘Tweety.’

Favourite food? Pap and braaivleis.

Favourite drink?   Cream soda, and after a long day at work, a cold beer always goes down well.

Favourite music?  R&B, Hip Hop and anything with a good beat.

Favourite sport? Rugby, and I have just started kite surfing.

Favourite soccer team?  I am not a big soccer fan so I don’t have a favourite team.

Favourite holiday destination?   Mauritius and Thailand.

What book are you reading at the moment?  Assassin’s Creed – Black Flag.

Which is the characteristic about yourself that you like most?  I am very calm and down to earth.

Is there anything the public don’t know about JP van der Merwe that they would be interested to know?  This would probably come as no surprise but I am passionate about racing.

Where did you go to school?  Port Elizabeth Al Tono in Green Bushes, same school as Piere Strydom.

What tertiary education did you attain? Matric.

How did you become involved in horseracing?  Through my father.

How did you hear about the South African Jockey Academy and in which year did you join?   In 2007  my father told me about it and we took it from there.

Who were your fellow apprentices and who were you riding masters?  Gareth Wright, Tshwaro Appie, Grant van Niekerk and Athandiwe Mgudlwa were my fellow apprentices. In Durban my riding masters were Thomas Labuschagne, Paul Gadsby and Gary Molloy. When I moved to Gauteng Robert Moore and Gary Waterston were my riding masters.

Which were the trainers who gave you the most opportunities?  At first, in Durban I got support from Craig Eudey and Pat Lunn. In JHB Mike Azzie and Alec Laird supported me.

Which was the first horse you won on? Tell us about that experience?   Regent’s Honour for trainer Bennet Bulana. Overwhelmed, excited and over the moon.

How many winners did you ride as an apprentice?  200 plus.

Which were the best horses you won on early in your career?  Ilsanpietro and Two Tone.

How tough was it to make the transition to becoming a qualified jockey without any allowance?  At first it was quite hard but once I found my feet it  became a lot easier, especially as I had  good support from the trainers.

You are currently the stable jockey for Glen Kotzen in Cape Town. How did you get the job?  Hard work and proving myself. I rode a lot for Glen during the winter season in Durban and he asked me to ride for him.

How often do you ride work for Glen? 4 times a week.

Do you and Glen have a particular day in the week when you discuss plans for the stables runners?  We discuss things after work but decisions are made by Mr Kotzen.

Which horses from the stable will be worth following in the near future? Antonius Du Bois.

Are there any unraced horses that you have ridden in work which have caught your eye? Yes, there are a few but I still don’t know the names.

Which other trainers do you ride for in the Cape? Piet Steyn has been supporting me.

The Cape season is now in full swing. Have you earmarked any particular horses to ride in the Queen’s Plate and the Met? As yet I have no particular horse I could ride but I have seen a few from the Mike Bass yard I would like to be able to ride.

Outside of your stable which are the horses you think will do really well this season? In The Fast Lane is very impressive and Jackson has come back in spectacular fashion.

You have a big day on Saturday, at Kenilworth, when competing in the R1 million Grand Parade Cape Guineas.

Tell us about your ride in the race, ANTONIUS DU BOIS and also about your other rides on the day?

My big ride of the day is obviously on ANTONIUS DU BOIS in race 7, the Cape Guineas. His last run was well below par but trainer Kotzen did a lung wash, after the race, which came out dirty. He has been treated since then and his final gallop, on Tuesday morning (17th December), was very pleasing. He takes on a strong field but he is very well and I am hoping for the best.

“For the rest of my rides this is how I see them”

Race 1: CRIME OF PASSION (3) – She has come on after his latest second and I make her the horse to beat.

Race 3: SAVANNAH WOOD (6) – This is the first time she has a decent draw but she needs to put her best foot forward.

Race 4: STRATOCRUISER (7) -This is his first run as a gelding. He had been haemoconcentrating but since his gelding he feels a different horse. He has a good draw and I expect him to be really competitive.

Race 5: ROARING WIND (2) – He has been plagued with leg problems. He needs a good gallop to be really effective.

Race 8: POLITICAL PLAYBOY (12) – He never runs a bad race. He needs a good pace to be really effective. If he gets it he should run a big race.

Race 9: SCARLET WITCH (10) – She has been coughing recently and may need the run.

You are also the stable jockey for Port Elizabeth based trainer Dorrie Sham. How often do you ride work for her? After work on Thursday I fly to PE to be able to ride work for her on Friday morning.

Which horses from the stable will be worth following in the near future? I think Two Gun Kid, La Salle and Blow Me A Kiss are all worth following.

How do you rate your rides at Fairview on Friday 20th?

RACE 3: BORN FOR BALLET (11) – We are drawn badly so I am hoping for some luck.

RACE 4: BROTHER IN ARMS (6) – He won a nice race last time and I am expecting another good run.

RACE 5: LA SALLE (3) – She is drawn badly but always does her best over the last 400m and I make her my best ride for the day.

RACE 6: VOICES OF KINGS (15) – This is his first run for the yard and I don’t know too much about him.

RACE 7: TWO GUN KID (6) – He is working much better since his last run. I expect him to run a big race.

RACE 8: LITE APPROVAL (14) – He is drawn badly and needs luck in running.

RACE 9: THE REAL NICK (11) – His last run was very good and he loves the distance. I expect him to run a big race.

How many winners have you ridden in total? My total of winners is now around the 300 mark.

Which feature races have you won? I won the OK Gold Bowl on Dom Zaki’s Winning Leap.

Which racecourse in South Africa is your favourite? Greyville racecourse. Will be interesting to see it when the polytrack is completed.

On a personal note what is your optimum riding mass? 50kgs.

Do you have an agent?  No I don’t have an agent at present. I will wait and see how my career pans out.

Do you have a sponsor and how important do you think it is for jockeys to be sponsored?  I don’t have a sponsor at present but it is a big financial and personal help to have a sponsor. I am in the market for a sponsor.

What would you expect from a sponsor? To support me all the way and I would take every opportunity to promote my sponsor in the best possible way.

What would you give to your sponsor in return for the sponsorship? Hard work and dedication.

Will you be setting your sights on the South African jockey title with the big prize that Klawervlei is putting up? Hopefully in the near future I will get into the race.

What does a typical day in your life look like? Riding work, and racing, obviously keeps me very fit.

Do you do anything extra to keep yourself fit? Kite surfing and gym.

You are a professional jockey and make your living by it but what else keeps you passionate about being a jockey? The thrill of riding winners.

What else in life are you passionate about?   I enjoy chilling out on the beach with my mates.

If, for any reason, you could no longer be a jockey how would you like to make a living? As yet I have not thought about that. Right now riding is my life.

What short/long term ambitions do you have for yourself?  Buying a house and living comfortably are my immediate aims.

Who would you consider to be the most influential people in your career? My father and family.

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