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Louis Mxothwa

A Racing Success Story

Louis Mxothwa (photo: Pauline Herman)

Louis Mxothwa (photo: Pauline Herman)

Luyolo or Louis Mxothwa cuts an interesting figure on the South African racing landscape. Despite numerous nods to BBBEE, upliftment and efforts to be more inclusive and demographically representative, racing is still lagging behind on this particular front.

However, from that perspective, Louis might be one of local racing’s most sincere success stories, although he prefers just to think of himself as a jockey. Louis qualified as a fully-fledged rider two seasons ago and after focussing on establishing himself in Port Elizabeth for the early part of his career, the 24 year old has just moved to the Cape to join Glen Kotzen’s Woodhill Racing team as the understudy to Richard Fourie.

About Louis

Louis was born in Johannesburg, but thanks to his family moving around, has also lived in Cape Town and Durban and has spent the last few years based in Port Elizabeth. Louis found his way into the racing industry via his father, who worked as a racing groom. It was thanks to meeting Fred Crabbia that his father took the family to Cape Town to help care for the Crabbia string at Mike Stewart’s Noordhoek base and it was at The Dunes that Louis first started riding.

Why horses and why racing? “With my dad being a groom, I was born around horses and have been around them since I was a kid. Going to races and watching what my dad did was a big influence on me. You see something like that and you get excited. Then I fell in love with horses and wanted to be a jockey and I was very lucky to have Mr Crabbia to help support me.”

Starting out

Louis’s first attempt to join the SA Jockey Academy was unsuccessful as he was deemed too heavy. However, when he tried again a few years later, with assistance from Bennett Bulana as well as financial support from Fred Crabbia, he was accepted and joined the Academy in 2011. Louis’ first win came aboard the Snaith trained African Alliance on 24 August 2012.

Despite joining as an older recruit, Louis admits that the Academy wasn’t easy, but is philosophical that it’s behind him now and is focussing on building his career and what a career it’s been.

Carving his niche

Although he is only in his second season as a fully qualified rider, Louis has a very respectable strike rate and having ridden for some of the top yards in the country, already has rides in the Cape Guineas, Met and ‘Consolation July’ under his belt. The 2014/15 season was a particular highlight as he was riding a lot of the Crabbia string. “I was involved with a lot of good trainers and good jockeys and got to ride a lot of nice horses, such as Legislate and Futura, Astro News, Cap Alright and It Is Written. I got to travel to Durban, PE and Cape Town. It was a good season,” he reflects.

As a July day ride is on the bucket list of any South African jockey, how was the experience? “I went blank,” he admits. “Richard (Fourie) kept telling me, ‘just ride it like a normal race’. I said, ‘But it’s not a normal race!’ he laughs. “Obviously you get nervous, but it isn’t that bad. You’ve just got to make sure you ride a good race and follow instructions and nobody can moan at you.”

Louis Mxothwa (photo: Pauline Herman)

Louis was PE’s local champion jockey for last season (photo: Pauline Herman)

Louis spent the last few years based in the Eastern Cape and was lucky enough to be associated with some top yards. “I really enjoyed living in PE, particularly when I was riding for the Snaiths. We were doing well and Justin was giving us some good horses. Last season I rode for Grant Paddock. We had a lot of success and I finished as the local champion jockey for the season.” Louis says the PE community were really supportive and proving that one should never forget your roots, he will still be travelling to ride in PE as often as he can to maintain the relationships he has built.

Broad appeal

With Gift Funeka being the first black jockey to ride in the Durban July and S’manga Khumalo winning the July and being a multiple SA champion jockey, has having successful black riders helped broaden the sport’s appeal? “I think so. I get quite a lot of people who are asking me how to become a jockey and what one has to do to get into the Academy. I think seeing myself and other black jockeys going out there and doing well, gives people the confidence to ask and allows them to think that if there are other guys out there like us, then maybe they can do it too.”

Does the perception that racing is an elitist white sport affect him at all? “To be honest, no, it’s not something that really affects me. I think no matter who you are, you just have to do what you feel is right for yourself, be positive and focus on the future and that’s what I try and do.”

Given racing’s reputation, what kind of reaction does he get when people find out what he does for a living? “People are often quite interested. They usually want to know whether the money is good. Then they want to know whether one only has one horse to ride and look after. A lot of people are really interested and want to know more, but they don’t have the confidence to actually come and get involved.”

Highs and lows

Asked what he loves most about the job, he says, ‘I enjoy winning. I love riding horses that give you a nice feel. It gives you a lot of confidence and makes the job so much easier.” He also says that it means a lot to get praise and positive affirmations from owners, trainers and his peers. “When people take the time to say things like ‘good ride’, it makes you feel good. Obviously I would love to get on the top horses and win the big races, but I love that through racing I get to meet a lot of interesting people.” If he wasn’t a jockey, what else could he see himself doing? “A Stipe,” he answers.

Predictably, as the hardest aspect of the job, he selects the perennial problem of struggling for rides. “Not getting rides is tough. It can get you down and make you start questioning yourself. Fortunately for me, my father has been in the game for a long time. He used to sit me down and talk to me and explain that this is the way things are. This is the way it’s always been and I’ve just got to work harder and the wheel will turn. It always does. And it’s worked out for me, thanks to him,” he says gratefully.

Family Support

Louis is lucky to have a strong family support base, with his parents and younger brother extremely proud of what he’s achieved. “My mother puts her R10 on all my rides. Every time I ride, she puts her money down and she makes money, hey! Probably more than most punters!”

Moving to Cape Town

Woodhill Racing Beach Outing (photo:  hamishNIVENPhotography)

Louis joins the Woodhill team at the beach (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

“Mr Kotzen spoke to my agent Rob Champion and said he was looking for a second jockey for the season, so I thought it was a nice opportunity to put myself out here,” he explains. Louis arrived on Sunday, 5 November and has settled in well at his new base. Richard Fourie is a rider he admires and looks up to and he is very happy to be working alongside him at Woodhill.

He had a good book of rides last Wednesday, bringing home a very solid 3 places from 5 rides and joined the Kotzen string for their beach outing last Friday. How is he enjoying the Cape Town jockey room? “I’m loving it. The jockeys here are so professional. Everything works well and the racing is really competitive. It’s nice to know there is strong competition. It means you’re always in with a chance and makes you always ride your best.

Like so much else in life, he knows he just needs a little luck. “I’ve come down to be the second choice rider, but you never know what can happen. Mr Kotzen has a very nice string and you never know. If you happen to pick up a good ride, you can make a name for yourself.”

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