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Grant Van Niekerk

Grant Van Niekerk

Grant Van Niekerk

Grant van Niekerk is a young rider with a bright future, of that there is no doubt.  Recently qualified as a fully-fledged jockey after a successful apprenticeship which saw him booting home more than 130 winners, Grant is as confident as he is talented and will assuredly not let the grass grow under his feet.  His successful association with dual Gr 2 winner Smanjemanje has been a highlight of his career, and has opened up new vistas for him in Gauteng.  Several of the Cape’s biggest yards have made successful use of his services to date, and young Grant is certainly not one of those promising riders whose career drops off the radar once he loses his allowance.  Our Star of the Future left that milestone behind a long time ago, and with his skill and desire to be successful he can only continue to thrive.

What is your name and age? Grant Van Niekerk and I am 20 years old.

What is your star sign and birthdate? Cancer, 30 June 1991.

Where were you born? I was born in Cape Town.

Where do you live? I was based at the Milnerton Academy during my apprenticeship but became a fully-fledged jockey on Saturday 11 February 2012. I now reside at home which is Bellville South in Cape Town.

Tell us about your family? We have a family of 7. I have a brother, three sisters, my mum Janette, dad John Van Niekerk and myself. I love my family dearly and  thank them for all the support they have given me.

Do you have a ‘nickname’? Well, they call me Big John, Mr. Muscles and at times the curly-headed one (not true). Sigh, Ha! Ha!

Favourite food? Nothing beats my mom’s Sunday lunch.

Favourite drink? Passion fruit & lemonade.

Favourite music? Miley Cyrus ….. NOT. Any music that makes you feel good, I guess.

Favourite sport? Cricket, soccer, table tennis and touch rugby is good to go on the beach. These sports will keep me fit when I’m not racing.

Favourite soccer team? Manchester United, all the way.

What is your favourite holiday destination? I don’t have one yet but I’m keen to hit the beaches of Miami when I get free time.

Briefly discuss your school days and in terms of favourite subjects etc.? To be completely honest, schooling only got in my way of focusing on my riding career at the academy. Hence, I hated it with a passion.

How did your interest in horses come about and how did you get into the academy? I have always had a natural passion for horses so I looked it up on the internet and that was it.

As a young man at school did you have anything to do with horses? No, not at all!

By the time you went to the academy had you ever ridden a horse? No.

When did you start in the academy? January 2007.

Who were your fellow apprentices at that intake? Gareth Wright, JP Van Der Merwe, Tshwaro Appie, Athandiwe Mgudlwa and Aldo Domeyer.

Who were your friends amongst them? We are all really close.

As a school boy did you follow horse racing and if so did you have any favourite horses or jockeys at the time? No. I only became interested in the sport after applying for the apprenticeship.

Once you got into the academy which jockey inspired you the most? At the academy Aldo Domeyer was particularly good to me. He has an excellent race-studying brain and showed me the ropes. I am grateful to him for all that he has done for me.

How long were you at the academy before you rode in your first race? Tell us about the ride? I had my first ride on 11 June 2008 at Clairwood. It was on a horse called Combat Leader over 1200m. I finished second on him, beaten just three parts of a length behind Yarnmaster. It was a thrilling experience.

Tell us about your first winner? The trainer of the very same horse showed great confidence in me and exactly two weeks later I won on Combat Leader over the same course and distance. It was an easy 2.25 lengths victory over Jet Man.

Which were the trainers who took the most interest in you and were prepared to help you along the way? Mr. Kotzen gave me many opportunities when I started off in KZN. When I arrived in Cape Town I got support from many trainers but particularly from the stables of Mr. Bass, Mr. Sheehan, Mr. Higgins, Mr. Piet Steyn and Mr. Riaan Van Reenen. I must be doing something right as I still get rides from the above trainers. A special thank you to all the trainers that have given me chances in my short career to date.

How long did it take before you began to have the confidence that you could ride with and possibly beat the likes of Anton Marcus, Piere Strydom, Anthony Delpech, Robbie Fradd and other top jockeys? I quickly figured out that you need plenty of self-confidence to succeed in this game. I am a young man with a lot of confidence in my ability in life in general but more so in my riding skills. I guess then my answer would have to be that it didn’t take me long.

Which tracks have you raced on and like best? I really enjoy both my hometown tracks at Kenilworth i.e. the new and old course. The Turffontein stand side track with its long run-in is very fair to horses. I also enjoy the short run-in at Greyville.

How many winners have you ridden to date? 133. God willing there are plenty more to come.

How many graded winners have you ridden? I am still chasing that elusive Grade 1 win, but I have ridden two Grade 2, two Grade 3, and eight Listed race winners.

Which do you consider to be the best horse/horses you have won on to date? A Daughter’s Legacy & Smanjemanje.

You have won two feature races aboard Smanjemanje in the past few months and more importantly on the night of The Citizen International Jockey’s Challenge you won the Victory Moon Stakes. How special was the victory on that particular night? I was thrilled to win on such a special occasion with some of the world’s top international jockeys watching on. It was particularly pleasing as I was deputizing for Randall Simons, who picked up an injury. Once again, a special thanks to Mr. Tyrone Zackey for giving me the opportunity.

Do you enjoy riding in Gauteng and is there any chance you would like to ride there on a permanent basis? Yes, I do enjoy riding there but things are going really well for me in the Cape. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind travelling up to Gauteng should the opportunity arise. In other words, if there is any Gauteng trainer searching for a light weight, hard-working jockey then I am your man.

What are your short & long term goals? My short term goal is to do well this season and possibly finish in the top 10. I am currently around 16th with 43 winners, about 13 winners shy of the top 10. This has already been my best season in terms of winners to date. In terms of long term goals I would love to go overseas one day and showcase my talent against the world’s best jockeys.

With the KZN winter season around the corner, will you be travelling to our magical province? My plan is to come over with the Bass yard and ride some work, initially. Hopefully whilst I am there I can get some chances from a few trainers.

What is your most memorable moment in racing thus far? There have been a few. My first winner on Combat Leader. It was a great honour riding in the Mauritius Challenge on their International Jockey’s Challenge meeting. I finished third in the race where the apprentices competed against the international jockeys. It was also a great thrill to compete against the international jockeys at Turffontein last November.

Is there anything about being a jockey that you dislike? I don’t follow the betting side of things too much so I don’t really enjoy being asked for tips by punters wanting to have a bet.

What is your ideal riding mass and do you have problems maintaining it? I am very comfortable riding at 51kgs and I have no problems maintaining that weight.

Do you do anything to keep maximum fitness apart from riding work and races? I play action sports like cricket and soccer.

How good a judge are you in assessing gallops? Relatively good.

Do you take an interest in the breeding side of the game and if so, what is your favourite stallion? I am not really interested in that part of the game but I like the stallion Jet Master. It is a great loss to the industry that he has passed on. My condolences to all concerned.

If for any reason you didn’t become a jockey what would have been your alternate career option? I was enjoying my cricket and went for trials with the Western Province Cricket Team. I didn’t make the trials but I am sure that if I pursued it then I would have cracked the nod further down the road. I was an all-rounder who batted at number three and was a spin bowler.

As a jockey the temptation to become involved with big punters is always there. How do you handle this situation? I do have people that approach me for tips. I have no idea how they get my number but I avoid that side of things.

Outside of racing is there anything else you are passionate about? I love spending time with my family, my girlfriend Nicole and friends.

Do you think racing is well-policed? Yes.

We’ve noticed that you and former champion jockey Andrew Fortune share the same sponsor i.e. Lektron. Tell us about them and what incentives they provide for you? Lektron is a company that imports and wholesales household appliances. Their products are primarily aimed at the middle to lower income level groups. They have been really good to me. Mr. Keith Steinberg has taken a really keen interest in my career and has been very supportive. I am grateful to be a part of the wonderful Lektron team.

As a fellow youngster, what do you think can be done to entice more youth into our wonderful sport? To the best of my knowledge we have been marketing our sport with elders. Maybe we should try the approach of getting the youth to market horse racing. I know they love to party so maybe that can be the starting point for racemeetings. Throw an after party every time!

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