At the age of 54, six times SA champion jockey Piere ‘Striker’ Strydom has little left to prove.
But he rode like a legend possessed at Turffontein on Saturday, producing four winners, including moving a stride closer to his century of Gr1 winners.
Bouncing back fit and hungry in the post level 5 lockdown era, Piere tells the Sporting Post that next season will be his last.
He says that he is in a great space emotionally and physically and is going to give it his all.
He is determined to go out on a high, and his target is ‘as many winners as possible’, and possibly a big race or five along the way.
The Striker swansong season is surely going to be a newsworthy twelve months and he is also very open to approaches from sponsors.
“I’d be very happy to entertain a brand that could join me in my farewell term!”
While he has won the Vodacom Durban July four times, his first was on London News 24 years ago, Striker is dead set on winning it again. His target for a 2020 ride is the former Joey Ramsden-trained Twist Of Fate, in the care of Adam Marcus.
The 2019 KZN Guineas winner ran third in the 2019 July behind Do It Again. He hasn’t won since and ran close on 3 lengths off Rainbow Bridge in Sunday’s Hollywoodbets Gr1 Gold Challenge.
“He is a smart horse. We have asked for the ride. Let’s see how it goes,” he adds philosophically.
Piere won’t be riding at Hollywoodbets Scottsville in the big speed raceday on Saturday, as the jockeys have travel restrictions.
We asked what he felt about the NHRA’s interprovincial lockdown rule.
“It is quite strange that trainers, horses, grooms and officials are allowed to travel. But jockeys are subject to different rules. I can’t quite fathom it out – like the rest of my colleagues.”
It’s difficult to believe that the young man from Port Elizabeth, who rode his first winner on Saadabad at Scottsville all of 38 years ago, is still booting the winners home with such effortless grace. But he modestly puts Saturday’s achievement down to ‘everything falling into place’.
“I had the mounts. You can’t do it without the right horses. A bit of luck and the rest is history,” he smiles.
Piere’s first winner was the 11-1 Ramchandani Road for Clinton Binda in a maiden.
“He had the scope and was improving. He is a nice horse,” he adds.
He then won the Gr2 SA Fillies Nursery on Springs Of Carmel for Paul Peter.
“I was fortunate to be able to track my stablemate Miracle Flight. That played into my hands,” he says.
St John Gray’s gallant chestnut Ronnie’s Candy upset the exotics in the Gr1 HSH Princess Charlene Empress Club Stakes.
“She was very well on the day and the headwind played into our hands. I think Queen Supreme also ran below her best.”
Piere saved his best ride for last on Imperial Ruby for Corne Spies in the Bidvest Gr3 Gold Bowl, a 3200m marathon.
“It was the end of a long day. But I was more worried about him trying to run off the course with me. He tried his luck at the starting gates but it didn’t cost us. He is an up-and-coming stayer and it was a smart win for a 3yo,” he adds, hardly mentioning the massive effort that he expended to get the gelding home by a nose from the gutsy never-say-die filly Factor Fifty.
And what about Candice Bass-Robinson’s Cape raider Russet Air – was he unlucky going down narrowly to Rivarine in the Gr1 Computaform Sprint?
“I wouldn’t say unlucky as at one stage I thought we were going to run last! There is a major difference between the Kenilworth 1200m and Turffontein’s 1160m in winter. He did really well to get so close to the winner in the end.”
Piere tells us how he enjoyed the recent break and stayed fit during lockdown.
“I sold my house a few months prior to the lockdown. I moved in with my partner Chrisna Riche in Fourways and she, very fortunately, has the gym and swimming facilities at home that helped me stick rigidly to a strict exercise regime throughout those days when we couldn’t even walk the dog,” he laughs,
Like Piere, a power product of the Eastern Cape, Chrisna is a Conveyancing Attorney and runs a successful all-female practice in Sandton.
Piere says he has never felt better and admits that age is a great mellower. We asked him whether his at times love-hate relationship with the punting public, bothered him.
“Most people talk from the pocket. They back two losers they hate me. They back two winners they love me. I have ridden for 38 years. If people didn’t have an opinion at all about me, I’d probably be more worried!” he smiles.
The Strydom CV is an impressive one.
He rode his 5000th career winner on Joey Ramsden’s Act Of War at Kenilworth in the Selangor Cup on 22 November 2014 and immediately set out to reach the 5000 winner mark on SA soil – as 72 of his career total had been achieved off-shore. He reached that further goal on the Lucky Houdalakis trained Allegorical at the Vaal on Thursday 14 May 2015.
While he has sons of 7 and 8 years of age, and realises, like the rest of us, that life is expensive, he won’t be drawn on plans when he hangs up his boots in July 2021.
“I’d like to do something in racing and believe I have plenty to give back. But I am not in a hurry to rush into that. I have the rest of this season and the whole of next season to try and go out in a blaze of glory. As they say, Saturday is history now and you are only as good as your last winner!”