Already an industry pacesetter after becoming the first member of the fairer sex to be crowned SA Champion Apprentice Jockey last season, Rachel Venniker ticked another item off on her professional bucket list when booting My Ami Beach home at Fairview on Friday – thus opening her East Cape account and now officially having ridden a winner in all of our three racing jurisdictions.
Just under 24 hours after winning the second race on Eye Of The Prophet for trainer Paul Matchett at the Vaal in Vereeniging on Thursday, Rachel was in action 1000km away in Gqeberha and walking the Fairview track prior to Friday’s meeting.
“Patience is a fundamental attribute of any professional jockey’s make-up, but I was very keen and felt that I really needed to break my duck down in the Eastern Cape. I walked the Fairview track before the first on Friday and thought it surely can’t be that complicated! I ran second on Mhlabeni for Mr Duncan McKenzie in the fifth race – and then left it to the very last when My Ami Beach ran a cracker. She gave me a very nice feel – she’s a lovely filly and she will always be special as my first Fairview winner,” enthused Rachel in a chat with the Sporting Post on Sunday.
Trainer Emmanuel Kaknis told the Sporting Post that his team was proud to have been able to give the SA Champion Apprentice her first winner in the coastal racing centre.
“She really is a professional individual and a very talented rider. We wish her many more winners and will continue to follow her fortunes,” he added.
The Jonsson Workwear-sponsored Rachel has gained invaluable experience by travelling to different centres and says that she is humbled by the support all over South Africa.
“Jurgen van Heerden, who is based just outside of Port Alfred, asked me to travel down to ride a few of his horses. So the door opened and I’m really happy to get the opportunity in the Eastern Cape. The flights to Gqeberha are pretty pricy, so we really have to make the trip count and I hope to ride many more winners in what is a really friendly and warm racing community,” added Rachel.
Travelling to Gauteng is a slightly different logistic as Rachel hitches a lift up the N3 on the SAJA bus with the other apprentices.
“I have been given some solid support up North too, and I really enjoy the challenges of the different racecourses. It’s all great experience!”
Asked if she had an Agent to optimise her riding opportunities, Rachel points out that apprentices are not allowed to make use of third party ride bookers.
“I did ask, but the request was declined. The rules do not allow for Agents for trainee riders,” she adds.
While the 21 year old lifetime equestrian had to originally bizarrely break down doors to get an opportunity to ride professionally, the blonde lady bomber has more than proven herself equal to the task since booting her first winner Calulo home for her mentor Michael Roberts in July 2021.
It took the influence of the legend Roberts, fellow champion Garth Puller and Kevin Wright, to finally get Rachel Venniker through the doors of the SA Jockey Academy at Summerveld.
It was a fourth attempt and a thankfully successful one at breaking down the resistance and South African racing is well and truly richer for Miss Venniker’s presence.
And all of this happened against a background where we are ironically supposed to be encouraging female participation – but a solid candidate (and that’s not only in hindsight!) has to bulldoze her way in. Bizarre? Go figure!
And to add to the confusion, female jockeys were allocated a 1,5kg allowance from the start of this term which ‘hopefully has the desired effect of growing the female participation in our jockeys ranks in South African and thereby creating sustainability of their participation’. That’s the official word.
With another winner at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Sunday, Rachel has picked up momentum since a slower than normal start to the term, even though she is once again in command at the top of the apprentice log. She is currently on 24 winners at a strike-rate of just under 12% and a commendable eighth on the senior national log.
We asked if the recent hullabaloo over the sex allowance had impacted on her.
“It wasn’t fun I suppose being near the epicentre of a fairly heated debate, but I am the only active female jockey in South Africa, so I can’t blame anybody for involving me or mentioning my name in despatches. But it’s nice that folk have generally stopped talking about it,” she laughs.
Rachel comes out of her time at end 2023. We asked about a second national title after her 70 winners from 570 rides at the end of last season.
“Things are going well and I’m working hard. There are a lot of talented youngsters in our riding ranks, and it’s a long road yet. But I feel good.”
Rachel has declared that her future dreams include the opportunity to ride in Hong Kong, the UK and Japan.
For now, she is focussed on being the best of her generation. And she is doing a damn fine job of building that professional reputation!