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Liam’s On The Map

Starting 2021 in the Eastern Cape

Lockdown travel protocols present major challenges for our jockeys in a world unchartered by the SA Jockey Academy text books.

One man who had to make a short-term career decision last week is 22 year old Liam Tarentaal. He signed his papers last Thursday and is now a fully fledged jockey – but where to go in a dog-eat-dog world where the superstars are always in demand, and also generally call the shots?

Talking to the Sporting Post from his new base in the Eastern Cape, the Durban-born Liam reflected back on an apprenticeship where he hit the highs of riding winners in Dubai, to breaking his leg and missing out on seven months of valuable exposure and training.

Liam at work (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

We first spoke to Liam over two years ago at the Milnerton Academy, when he was one of a fresh-faced triumvirate that included Sandile Mbhele and Louis Burke.

Life changes quickly.

In the face of massive financial pressures facing one of the world’s most respected jockey training institutions, the Academy Milnerton branch has since quietly been closed while Mbhele has proven himself to be a more than capable almost first-choice jockey to the Vaughan Marshall yard while standing in for the injured stalwart MJ Byleveld.

Liam says that he has lost touch with his former housemates and after spending a quiet but happy Christmas with his family in Durban, decided to base himself in Port Elizabeth for the immediate future.

“The uncertainty of life as we know it now means that planning too far ahead is not advisable. I love the Cape and enjoyed riding down there but when I considered the January population of jockeys based in the Mother City for the summer season features, I felt I would be much better off building a good start to 2021 and working hard in the Eastern Cape.”

Liam enjoyed solid success in the Windy City during the third year of his apprenticeship under the flag of powerful yards like Yvette Bremner, Gavin Smith and Grant Paddock, and after having his first ride there a week ago for Hekkie Strydom, says that Sharon Kotzen is also likely to be engaging him this time round.

He is staying with his friend and colleague, Teaque Gould, and says that he enjoys the relaxed vibe.

“I am freelancing and working hard. Teaque is a quiet living guy and so it’s nice to come home and relax. I have no distractions in the way of a girlfriend, so can properly concentrate on focussing on getting my career going and earning. I realise I am no longer an apprentice, so cannot rely on others to look after me,” he adds determinedly with a broad smile.

Based in PE for the start of 2021 (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

When looking back on his short career, Liam says that he has had so many opportunities, he has been blessed with a flying start and it’s only his own fault if he doesn’t capitalise on the value.

He rode his first winner on Dunham for Candice Bass-Robinson at Hollywoodbets Greyville back on 7 December 2016 and says it feels like yesterday.

Liam is the youngest of a family of two sisters and a brother and grew up in Wentworth.

“My Dad used to enjoy visiting Clairwood. It was there that we met a champion jockey and a truly champion person called Garth Puller. He guided me early and got me work-riding. So much valuable advice was given to me – how could a young guy dream of a better mentor early on?”

He joined the SAJA intake of 2015 alongside the likes of Ashton Arries, Calvin Habib, Louis Burke, Sandile Mbhele, Dylan Lerena, Khanya Sakayi and Daniel Kotzen.

While he missed Mom’s home cooking, he quickly got into the rhythm of a new world.

“It was tough but very rewarding,” he recalls.

Liam is one of the few jockeys riding in South Africa who has ridden winners in Dubai – including one at Meydan!

“I got a major opportunity during my third year when we got word that Grandstand Stables’ Ali Rashid al Rayhi was looking for a light-weight claiming apprentice to join his yard. I was 19 years old and had ridden 18 winners here. I naturally jumped at the chance!” he enthuses.

Liam’s first win in Dubai came abroad came aboard the Rashed Bouresly-trained Murrayfield, in the Harley-Davidson Northern Emirates Handicap at Meydan.

He is on record describing it as an ‘incredible experience’ and ‘one he will always remember’.

“The roar of the crowd from the packed grandstand was awesome. I will never forget that! I rode my second Dubai winner for SA trainer Ernst Oertel in the School Transport Services 1400m handicap on the dirt at Jebel Ali. I was riding Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda’s 6yo gelding, Epsilon and we won by something like four lengths!”

Liam returned to South Africa after a valuable four months in Dubai – even though he concedes that he took some time to adjust to the differing training and racing regimes there.

In terms of racing, Liam explained that the biggest difference is that in Dubai they race mainly on dirt tracks.

He tells how the pace on the dirt tracks is ‘very fast’.

He also had to get to grips with riding both Arabians and Thoroughbreds, and described the Arabians as a great learning experience because they are different from thoroughbreds and require variations in riding style and tactics.

On the racing, he says it was ultra-competitive.

“One is competing against some of the best jockeys in the world – both for rides and in races. I am pleased on reflection that I made the most of it and was like a sponge learning and absorbing all I could!”

While still on a high after returning from Dubai, it was a matter of months later that Liam was chosen to represent South Africa and jetted off to France to contest the Prix Longines Future Racing Stars at the Chantilly Racecourse.

Liam is keen to focus and lift his game (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

He was following in big shoes with SA past winners Franklin Maleking and Mpume Mjoka having set the bar.

“It was another bit of valuable international experience that I will cherish. One realises when visiting far-flung destinations that we can never stop learning.”

While his leg injury set him back last year, Liam is keen as mustard to get going in Port Elizabeth.

He hopes that his work ethic and his ability to ride at 52kgs will open more doors.

“I will take each day as it comes and do my best. There is a great atmosphere here in Port Elizabeth and the racing community is warm and friendly.”

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