Nadine Rapson was born on 16 June 1980 in Ladysmith, Natal and grew up on a smallholding in the Midlands town of Greytown. “It was the best childhood I could ever have had, as I was and still am very much an outdoors and animal mad individual. My parents and brother have never ever remotely been interested in horses so I’m not sure what happened to me, but I got horse fever enough for all of them! We never farmed, but the landlord had plenty of animals including horses which I got to ride. The bug bit for good one day when my poor steed had just about had enough and bolted with me – it was amazing, I thoroughly enjoyed the gallop and had a taste for speed since then!”
A few years later, a family friend spotted a newspaper ad for the Jockey Academy. “Galloping on green grass on beautiful horses for the rest of my life? What more could a girl want? My life was about to change…”
“I started on 8 January 1996. Prior to being accepted, you are told how tough it is and given a tour through the Academy. They try to educate you as to what to expect, but you can never be prepared. The eventual crop to make it through would be Chantal Cormack (nee Moys), Danielle McCreedy Brown (nee McCreedy), Francois Jacobs, Lukas Bester, Bernard Faydherbe, Alexander Thompson and myself. Quite a large group actually and with 3 girls! That’s the biggest number of girls that had gone through successfully till then and unfortunately until now. I must admit, I didn’t enjoy the Academy and really flourished once I left in the middle of my 3rd year to try and make my way in Port Elizabeth.
My parents always supported my decision whole heartedly, but obviously hated it when I fell (which unfortunately happened rather regularly and eventually ended my racing career). I’ll never forget their shell shocked faces in hospital in Pietermaritzburg. I fell off in a race after clipping heels and broke my wrist. They were actually at the course and the stipes called them in and showed them the fall in slow motion. It did look a lot worse than my injuries – apparently I did a great deal of bouncing (in slow motion) and then got kicked around by 2 horses behind me. There was a great deal of pleading on my mom’s behalf to please reconsider on that occasion, but when they realised I wouldn’t, they were straight back to full support. Another thing they didn’t enjoy was knowing how hard I worked and the fact that the scale was hardly ever even. It used to get me down and I know they wanted less of a struggle for me.
My first race ride was a little filly called Film Legend at Scottsville for Steve Benton. We finished back in 10th, but I was so excited. My adrenaline was pumping, it was awesome. I do remember happily springing off her in the parade ring afterwards only to have my knees give way underneath me! All my workriding had not prepared me for how hard an actual race ride was!
My first win was for controversial trainer Mr Maharaj on a grey called Desert Dueller. It was a night meeting at Greyville and Mr Maharaj had instructed me to elastic band my stick to hand as he was worried I would drop it! Well I hooked that last bend and Dueller hung out so badly I almost visited the hot dog stands, but he won! Was terribly embarrassing, but nonetheless we won. It was my 11th ride.
I joined Alan Greeff’s yard in late July of 1998. Danny McCreedy and I relocated at the same time, she to the Gavin Smith yard and I to Alan Greeff. At that stage there weren’t as many trainers and Alan’s yard easily ran 4 and sometimes more horses in a race. As a result, I had a ride almost every race, as did Danny. We went from getting 1 ride every other meeting in Natal, to 7 and 8 rides a meeting in PE. We would hurry back after unsaddling after a race, quickly weigh out for the next and then lie on our backs in the girls jockey room trying to get out breath back before going out for the next! Needless to say, we fittened up quickly.
After the local Academy closed its doors I moved in with Alan and Glenifer and once I qualified I became Alan’s unofficial assistant. I worked every day of every week. I remember days where I would leave stables, finish just in time to go straight to the course and fit my saddle for my first ride of the race day. I worked hard for my rides, both as a jockey and a stable hand, but I learned a great deal and I loved that. I loved learning about feeding, bandaging, medicating, breaking in youngsters and schooling for gates, running a yard in general basically. Watching the vet treat horses was also a good education. I’d feel something amiss at track and I’d see what he diagnosed and how he treated the horse. I’d file that away and the next time a horse felt like that at track, I’d know what was wrong. You just don’t get an education like that unless you are hands on. Had I ended up anywhere else, I would not have been nearly as successful.
I look all over the world and women jockeys are making their mark, but not in South Africa. It’s not entirely due to lack of talent. Making it, you need support and getting that is especially hard for girls. I was so lucky ending up in the Alan Greeff yard – I didn’t get the best rides but I got rides and I did my best on them. I know that Alan stuck up for me when he could to owners, but many of them didn’t want a girl on their horse. As far as they were concerned, I wouldn’t be able to handle it on race day even though I rode it everyday at work, be it mad, strong or both. Anyway, point being, I do believe women can compete with men on the racecourse and really hope there is a woman waiting in the wings in SA to make it happen here.
I may not have been anywhere near being a top jock, but I got my rides and I rode my winners and made a decent living. Of course I did get jocked off regularly and I must say I still don’t miss Monday mornings as a jockey (scratchings day in PE!) I worked for Alan for just shy of 14 years and the Greeff family is just like family to me. I still visit the yard regularly and catch up.
I got to have a few highlights in my career (although they may seem insignificant to others!). Obviously my first win and my first win in PE, which was a wonderful filly called Yankee Lass and I’ve watched her progeny go on to be successful horses as well. My first double on a day – King Swan and Temperate. My first treble – Kensington Park, The Tallisman and Kawata. Winning 4 races in a row on a gutsy little filly, Tinella, an orphan that almost didn’t even make the racecourse. Partnering a talented filly that went on to win PE horse of the year, Silver Nun, that was very special to me – we just clicked, it was awesome. We don’t have Gr1 or Gr2 races in PE and only three Gr3 races a year. But I won a few listed races of which the 2 that stand out are my back to back wins in the Lady’s Pendant – one on Silver Nun and one on Snow Angel, two very special fillies. I could go on and on – every single winner was so special.
I stopped riding on 10 October 2011. I miss it to this day, obviously over time you do tend to remember the good things over the bad, maybe romanticise it a bit, but I miss it badly and for the first year after I finished up, I battled to go racing I was so madly jealous of the jockeys!
Getting into presenting was actually all by chance. My husband had a runner and I was sitting at Alan’s table chatting to our local vet, Dr Ashley Parker about how I was keeping myself busy. He suddenly said “There’s an opening as a presenter locally why don’t you go for it, you’ve got your background as a jockey?” Alan joined us from the parade ring and said he thought that’d be a great idea as I never stopped talking anyway! Mr Passerini was passing by, heard the conversation and said he’d organise me an interview. I hadn’t actually even replied yet, let alone given it any thought and I had an interview!
I love presenting in PE. I don’t ride work, so to prepare I normally put 6 hours into a local card (it’s quite a bit longer if I have to study for another province). Then I still have to work out perms for the exotics. I get up at 4:45 on Wednesdays (final sprints for races on Friday) and spend till about 9:30 getting comments from trainers. Then home to type it all out, comments and perms and email it to Tellytrack. I’m usually done by 12. Tellytrack also phone me for First Call on a Thursday.
The best part of the job is that I get to do something that I have a real interest in and I get to stay in racing even though the jockey part of my life is over. The worst part is putting all that time into a card and watching PE racing make a mockery of all my hard work! PE can have some weird and wonderful results and it’s really hard to find them!
Life outside racing
“Racing in PE is pretty much my life! I have my own horse that I potter around on and I really enjoy reading and taking our dogs for walks. And since I have quit working in a racing yard I do unfortunately have to attend gym. Ironic – as a jockey trainers begged me to put weight on and I couldn’t and now I can’t stop the kilo’s piling on!”
“I married Gary Low Ah Kee in 2012. We met through racing as he had horses with Alan and was one of the owners that didn’t mind me riding his horses. He really enjoys his racing and tries to make Friday races as often as he can. He’s always been wonderfully supportive, from my career as a jockey, to now as a presenter and I’m very lucky to have him as my husband. He has admitted that he is happy that I have stopped racing, but only because he was so worried about me getting hurt, he’s not happy in the sense that he knows I miss something I loved so much.”
“I want to be the best I can be for PE racing. This is my home and I’m happy here. “