Like a Gerald Bosch, De Wet Ras or Naas Botha of yesteryear, multiple SA champion Piere Strydom has become a master at converting the long-range penalties from seemingly impossible positions in the sunset years of an illustrious career.
Take Nexus (50-1) in the Ridgemont Highlands Gr2 Peninsula Handicap in December.
Then Lady Of Power (25-1) in the Wilgerbosdrift Gr2 Gauteng Fillies Guineas in early February.
On Saturday he slotted See It Again (50-1) in to win the SplashOut Gr1 Cape Derby.
What’s next and is it genius, luck, or simply great timing?
We posed the questions to the evergreen rider at his Constantia home on Monday morning as he prepared for a trip to Johannesburg to write some more history on Classic Day. The legend had just returned from a holiday in Dubai 24 hours prior to throwing his leg over See It Again.
“Interesting question about what the root cause is of my late resurgence! I’d like to take all the credit, but it really all comes back to good horses and top trainers. Looking back over the last few years I haven’t had the pick of the rides. First it was covid, then my eye injury. Then when I returned, it felt as if everybody had moved on. Some said I was old and practically retired. But nothing quite like a few naysayers having a dig to get the adrenaline pumping and the old bones moving. I have never lost the will to compete and win – that’s a built in standard feature,” laughs the champion as he sips on his tea.
There was plenty of emotion attached to Saturday’s Gr1 victory as now trainer Muis Roberts is a jockey Striker looked up to as a young man.
“Michael Roberts is the benchmark of excellence in the saddle and in my younger days I used to think, if only I could be half as good as him. And here we are partnering in a Gr1 success. Just shows that one never knows where life takes us.”
Piere explains that when he got the call-up to partner See It Again, he felt that they were probably running for second at best.
“Charles Dickens was obviously always the horse to beat. Look at his form. He is clearly very special. But I had the feeling that if there was one chink in his armour, it was the 2000m. And then when the Snaiths turned it into a genuine test of stamina, it was game on.”
The top jockey explains that Michael Roberts’ instructions were brief, but spot on.
“Muis said that See It Again may be slightly sluggish out of the stalls, and that’s what happened. I had him in a nice rhythm and settled and when I saw Aldo Domeyer and Charles Dickens in midfield ahead of us, I knew I had the right target to use as my barometer for where I was at.”
Piere smiles when he tells how See It Again accelerated.
“When we came up the home straight See It Again started unwinding – I was on Charles Dickens tail. I kept angling to switch my mount out and made my move just as Charles Dickens appeared to lug in and lose his momentum. I pounced and knew I had the chance. Then I thought, hang on, we may have this in the bag. But it was only at the 100m that I was seriously thinking about my acceptance speech!” he laughs.
Our records show only one previous Strydom ride for Michael Roberts.
That was Sid Cassel’s Dauntless Delance in an international jockeys race at Clairwood on 18 November 2012. While Striker was unplaced, the race was one by Joao ‘Magic Man’ Moreira riding a horse called Guantanamera.
But back to the present, has Saturday’s Gr1 boost delayed the Striker retirement party again?
“You know, people are going to start thinking that I am never going and will still be floating around when South Africa hosts our next rugby world cup! But, seriously, how does one turn one’s back on golden opportunities and great horses like these? Lady Of Power runs in the second leg of the SA Triple Tiara on Saturday, and if Mr Jonsson wants me, I’d be very honoured to ride See It Again in the SA Champions Season. It may sound presumptuous looking ahead to the Hollywoodbets Durban July, but I probably won’t be able to do the weight there. The great thing is, he is a smashing horse – and there are ample races for him!”
Piere leaves Cape Town on Wednesday and partners Lady Of Power in the Wilgerbosdrift Gr1 SA Fillies Classic at Turffontein on Saturday. He says her gate speed and natural pace probably make her an even more exciting prospect over the 1800m.
“She’s a lovely filly and I’m very positive for Saturday. I think she could enjoy the 1800m fractions and, while winning a Gr1 is never easy and there are some decent fillies in the race, I am confident of a big run.”
Of his other rides, Piere says that Gareth van Zyl’s Money Heist is worth considering in the WSB Gr1 SA Classic.
“He is a smart horse but has had no luck with the draws in his last three starts, all in features. His form is better than it looks. Now we have finally cracked a single digit gate on Saturday!”
And one final question – does Charles Dickens stay?
“I don’t like passing opinion on horses that I have not ridden. But judging on what we saw on Saturday, Charles Dickens was pretty strong until very late in the race, and that late movement inwards cost him ground, and vital momentum. On what I saw there, he could surely get away with it over the 2000m at Hollywoodbets Greyville, where they spin for home and he can be unleashed off the false rail and possibly have too much pace for them in the run to the line. Don’t write him off, is my suggestion!”
Watch the replay here: