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Striker – Riding The Wave And Hanging Ten!

Age is just a number

Depending on the aches and pains, age is really just a number. But a 10 draw for the 2023 Hollywoodbets Durban July runner-up See It Again in the 128th renewal of Africa’s greatest race on Saturday 6 July had veteran jockey Piere ‘Striker’ Strydom rubbing his hands in glee.

Piere Strydom could be seeing the trophy again for the fifth time on Saturday, 6 July (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

One of the great characters of the turf in South Africa, Piere Strydom celebrated his 58th birthday a matter of weeks ago and laughed at our suggestion that, after 12 year old apprentice Fred McGrath steered Collet to victory in 1922, that he would be setting an old age record on the other side of the spectrum for a winning jockey, were Michael Roberts’ 4yo See It Again to go one better on Saturday.

“I am sure I already set that record back in 2016 when The Conglomerate won. So I will be bidding to smash my own record, despite some of my opposition being half my age. But don’t forget – they say, there is apparently no substitute for experience!”

Piere had his first taste of the festive and vibrant buzz of Africa’s perennially greatest raceday on the first Saturday in July in 1988 – the year that Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“That sounds like a lifetime away, doesn’t it? I hadn’t yet moved to the Highveld and got the call-up from Gqeberha, which is unusual. I rode Gitano for Piet Steyn and ran second to Felix Coetzee and Royal Chalice. I nabbed Jeff Lloyd late, who was relegated to his favourite third position on Pedometer.”

Piere’s observation is spot on as, starting with Jeff Lloyd’s first July ride aboard So Humble in the 1978 Rothmans July, where he finished third, the now retired ‘Guv’ filled that frustratingly forgettable position on a further ten occasions!

With four Durban July winners under the belt, Piere is set to equal Anton Marcus’ benchmark of 5 on Saturday.

Watch Piere Strydom win the 2012 Durban July on Pomodoro:

When pressed for the standout of his quartet of July winners, London News (1996), Trademark (2001), Pomodoro (2012) and The Conglomerate (2016), Piere doesn’t hesitate to observe that London News was ‘a true champion’.

Piere wins the 1996 Gr1 Rothmans July on London News (photo: Gold Circle)

Piere wins the 1996 Gr1 Rothmans July on London News (photo: Gold Circle)

“London News had unbelievable acceleration. I rode him from the front, and when I pressed the button, his acceleration was instant – it actually almost proved our undoing, as he nearly caught me napping! Trademark was a clinical victory. Perfectly prepped and programmed by the master Mike Bass. Pomodoro was talented and gutsy, and he was a horse who gave one options, as he could race from wherever we found ourselves. I picked up the ride on The Conglomerate very late from Joey Ramsden. The Australian-bred gelding was naughty, and we were drawn wide out. He flew the gates and we were always in a good position,” he recalls.

While Richard Fourie played down draw concerns, saying ‘you shouldn’t be in the race if you are worried about your draw’, Piere labelled his 10 draw for Saturday, as ‘perfect’.

“See It Again is a horse who is ridden from off the pace, and being drawn too close to the rail, and getting cut off, or to be blocked on the outside when you are obliged to either go forward or drop in, can make it tricky. From the 10 gate I can see both sides and try and ensure we get a good position. It is a reality that they always go quickly the first 400m of the July. Have a look at that next week on the Winning Form sectional timing data, which makes for interesting reading,” he added.

On his seemingly often shelved retirement plans, Piere explained that the fact that he has continued past his planned ride into the pension sunset had been largely circumstantial – and had a lot to do with his extraordinary good fortune in being called up late to win the SplashOut Gr1 Cape Derby on See It Again in 2023.

Michael Roberts and Piere Strydom return to the unsaddling enclosure after See It Again’s big victory in the 2023 SplashOut Gr1 Cape Derby (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

“Covid arrived and locked us all away. Then Chrisna and I married in December 2020. She was keen to get a taste of racing life, so I stayed on. Then the 5500 career winner mark came up as a goal. I picked that up on Admiralty Arch for Barend Botes at the Vaal in November 2022. After that it was See It Again in the Cape Derby.Then we chased Charles Dickens home in the Guineas and won the Daily News. And after that it was second to Winchester Mansion in last year’s Hollywoodbets Durban July. Who wants to retire with unfinished business and a top Grade 1 horse to ride?” he laughs, adding that he appreciates the support of his multiple champion former colleague Michael Roberts and leading owner, Nic Jonsson.

Is he concerned about anything on Saturday?

“We want a genuine pace, but frankly one seldom gets a slow-run Durban July. If I could pick, I would like to have had an honest and genuine pacesetter like Dave The King in the race. One could also think about match fitness. See It Again has only had one run since his fourth placed finish in the WSB Cape Town Met. But he felt good and stayed on nicely for third behind Dave The King in the Hollywoodbets Gr1 Gold Challenge. And I have every faith in a top-class horseman like Michael Roberts having See It Again spot on for Saturday.”

Asked to give us a thought on Richard Fourie breaking the Anthony Delpech 334 record recently, Piere doffed his cap and said he could speak from experience that it was ‘bloody hard work’.

“I held the   season   winners   record for just one season, before Anthony (Delpech) came along and smashed it out the ball park. I think the intrinsic difference between my time and Richard 26 odd years later is that the awareness created by Hollywoodbets offering the R1 million, the social media hype, and the chase being constantly in the racing news, kept the subliminal pressure on. In my day, I casually ticked over from week to week, and the winners came. Nobody was shouting or counting! But full marks to Richard. I can attest to the fact that one becomes an exhausted Zombie. It clouds into a zone where it is automatic to expect a few winners at every meeting. Congratulations to all involved. It certainly provided great entertainment.”

Will Piere hang up his boots on 31 July 2024?

“I was thinking that I was not going to renew my licence at the end of the season. But then Warne Rippon and Arun Chadha of the ASSM Racing Syndicate signed me up to ride for them, and they have just renewed my contract for a further three months, to end August. So you may all have to put up with me for a while yet! And I am really happy for Arun and Warne that Shoemaker gets a run in the big race on Saturday.”

Piere and Chrisna – life’s good!

And what about his family and life?

“The boys are growing up fast – they’re 12 and 11 already. Chrisna and I purchased the guest   house near Groot Constantia, and have a couple running it. It’s a real winner, especially with overseas visitors. We were going to relocate from Joburg, but Chrisna has a thriving business – she’s a Conveyancing Attorney, and the solitude and beauty of Constantia is a world away from the buzz of Sandton. So, we enjoy the best of both worlds and are commuting when needed, and really enjoying life.”

So, will Striker be sipping the champers, or a glass of red wine, as the sun sets on Hollywoodbets Greyville on Saturday?

“I go out positive, even if it’s a race where one needs the horse and the luck. I know I have the former, now I just need a dash of the latter and we will be right in the mix.”

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