It is interesting to hear a jockey who has ridden over 1300 winners suggest that there is no bigger thrill than owning and leading in a winner. Mind you, Cape based Greg Cheyne should know. His wife Claire owned 2009 Gr1 Paddock Stakes winner Emblem Of Liberty. The internationally experienced Cheyne rode 18 winners in the final month of last season and is looking forward to a national top five finish this term.
What is your name and age?
Gregory Michael Cheyne, 38
Please tell us about your upbringing and education.
I’m a Blue Bull and was born, bred and raised not far from Loftus Versveld in Pretoria. I attended Pretoria Boys High briefly before joining the Jockey’s Academy in 1991.
Are your family supportive of you?
My biggest supporter as well as critic still lives in Pretoria – that would be my mom! Unfortunately Dad passed away some 9 years ago and not a day goes by that I don’t have a thought or laugh about him. My Sister has spread her wings and been plying her trade in Australia for a little under 2 years now.
I come from a small but very close family and we are in touch with each other on a very regular basis even though we are geographically miles apart. Then of course there is my amazing wife Claire. We have been married for 8 years and been together since late 1997 – I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
How did you end up at the SA Jockey Academy?
My mom showed me an article in the Sunday paper at the age of 12. It was about the Jockey’s Academy. I always, even at such a young age, knew I wanted to make a living out of sport. Even though I knew nothing about horseracing I decided to go for the interviews. I was a year too early so went back the following year to Turffontein and thereafter was asked to go to Clairwood for the final selection. I joined SAJA in 1991
Did you enjoy your time at the Academy and where did you serve your apprenticeship?
I found it very tough in the beginning and was extremely home sick. As time went by I managed to cope and only about midway during my 2nd year did I start to settle in. I must admit, at the time I thought it was a horrible 5 years but when looking back, I realize it was a great 5 years! I was in KZN for 4 years of my apprenticeship and spent my last 11 months in Cape Town.
What has been your biggest win?
Winning the July on Big City Life for Glen Kotzen was obviously my biggest achievement before I went abroad and going forward, I’d like to notch up more Gr1 winners.
Any regrets about your chosen profession?
No regrets. My career has given me the opportunity to travel to places I may have never gotten the chance to. Also to meet people and experience different cultures. I have been really fortunate through my work with all the experiences I’ve had thus far in life.
You are known as a man who enjoys a round of golf. You also live on a golf estate. Is that how you keep fit and what is your handicap?
Sorry to say – we take golf carts 9/10 times so definitely not part of my fitness regime! I am playing off 7 at the moment and enjoy it.
Do you enjoy other sport?
I am looking forward to the start of the British Premier League this weekend. It looks to be a very interesting and competitive season ahead. I am a passionate Spurs supporter and am hoping for a big season from them. Locally the Currie Cup didn’t kick off too well for the Bulls but “my bloed bly blou!”
At what weight do you ride and are you able to eat normally?
I am very fortunate that I am able to eat normally. I am riding at 53kg at the moment but can get down to the minimum when required. This is my first winter in quite a few years so I’m going to use that as my excuse and say that’s the reason for being a bit overweight for now! I will be back to 52kg in summer again.
I am not attached to any stable but have been offered first choice with Glen Kotzen of late. Joey Ramsden, Daryl Hodgson and Eric Sands also offer me many rides. I pick up rides for most of the trainers here in Cape Town when I am available and am very fortunate that this allows me to fill my cards most meetings.
What are your thoughts on Cape racing during the winter?
As we know, Cape Town has a very cold and wet winter. The track managers have their work cut out in preparing and maintaining the racecourses but it also gets very tough for the trainers to give their horses a good prep with the training tracks that are so often under water.
If anyone was at the Durbanville meetings on 29 July particularly 6 August, they would have seen a top effort by all involved to get through the meeting in less than ideal conditions. I’m glad to say that Dean Dierdricks is on top of matters regarding the tracks and needs a special mention for his efforts.
Clairwood – good move or bad move?
Sad move… along with Milnerton, Germiston, Newmarket, Bloemfontein, Arlington.
What are your thoughts on Polytracks?
I think that the introduction of polytracks as a racing surface in SA have been and will be a huge asset to our racing. For one, it gives us the option to race when we have adverse weather conditions and through extremely wet spells when we find our turf tracks waterlogged.
Maintained correctly it is equally suitable in hot and dry conditions. There are many horses that have a definite preference for the synthetic surface and therefore it gives many a horse a second chance at performing favourably for their connections. It would be great to see a polytrack in each of our racing centres in the near future.
You have one of the best away jobs in PE with the powerful Greeff yard. After another tough Cape winter, this must mean a lot to you?
Absolutely. Alan and I have enjoyed a lot of success together. We had 4 excellent seasons before I left for Hong Kong in 2009 and I am so happy to see the stable win the trainers title again this year. Of course it’s a huge benefit for me that I have an extra 5-6 meetings a month, which normally come with full cards and above average results, especially with fewer meetings taking place back in the Western Cape during this time.
What is your schedule on a Friday when you travel to PE?
I get up at 3:50am, leave home 4:15am, check in about 5am, fly at 6am, land at 7:30am. I often go to Alan’s stables when I arrive and we go through the runners or entries etc for the following week. After the meeting we briefly do postmortems of the racing and then have a drink with some of our owners or friends and colleagues before heading to the airport again.
I normally get back to the airport around 18h30 and go upstairs and do my form for Cape Town racing the next day. The flight to Cape Town is due to depart at 20h30 but is invariably delayed on a Friday night. All told, I am normally home by about 23h00.
I unpack, then pack for races on Saturday and in bed by midnight. The alarm at 5am on a Saturday is not pleasant!
Do you find the travelling tiring?
I actually enjoy travelling. I don’t mind flying and I like airports. That may sound strange but it is true! The one thing I don’t enjoy is the drive to and from the airport at the hours I find myself on the roads.
Who is the toughest jockey to be going heads up, heads down against in a tight finish?
Joao Moreira must be one of the most competitive guys I’ve ridden against & not only in the finish!
Are you a social media fan?
I am on Facebook but not that active. I do believe social media has it’s place and is definitely something that is a part of most of our lives, I enjoy it and it’s a great tool.
But a fan…? No – my life would function quite happily without it!
How do you market Brand Cheyne? Do you have a sponsor?
I don’t have a sponsor but would be more than happy to consider offers. I ride work everyday bar Friday when I’m travelling and Sunday which is my off day. Track work is pretty much where I do my ‘marketing’.
You recently rode in Malaysia in an International Jockeys Challenge. How did it go?
Not as well as last year when I won the challenge. That being said, it’s always a good experience and great to ride against different jockeys from other parts of the world.
You have extensive international racing experience-where in the world would be your first choice destination to ride permanently and why?
Racing and working in Hong Kong is in a totally different league and by far the best. Lifestyle… Hmmm… Not so sure…maybe Singapore – Claire and I really enjoyed the lifestyle!
South Africa is home and that is where the heart is. We also have such a different industry here. I enjoy the feel, emotion and passion that we have for the “horse” in the racing industry in South Africa. I did not feel that in Asia.
To finally answer the question, I would say Hong Kong. Not only for the financial reasons but definitely the way things operate on an unbelievably professional level.
For now though, I am very happy to be home and will not be looking to go anywhere on a permanent basis soon.
How do we get the crowds back to the racecourses?
I read a very interesting article on Sporting Post by Simon Burgess- ‘Is Racing A One Trick Pony?’
Read that story here:
He really makes some very valid points. I don’t have the answers but this question has been asked for a long time now, so clearly we haven’t come up with a solution yet.
My humble opinion – perhaps we need to offer and find an alternate attraction to the course. What entertainment or retail therapy that may be, I’m not sure.
Let’s start by ascertaining where all the people are flocking to these days or nights perhaps?
Do you ever pursue championship titles?
I have only attempted the East Cape title where I have succeeded 3 out 4 times and was runner-up in 2007. I fell 10 short this past season but missed almost 4 months of races having been overseas as well as an injury enforced layoff of 5 weeks. Seeing as though I am back for the start of this season, I will be having a tilt at it again!
You have been back in SA for ten months now and appeared to have settled well- and you finished last season like an express train!
I feel like I have got into some sort of rhythm and yes I ended the last season well. I rode 18 wins in July and finished 10th on the National log with 83 winners. And I only rode for 8 months of the season.
Have you set a target this season?
I will look to get into the top 5 and go for about 120+ winners this term.
You and Claire had some luck when you owned horses a few seasons ago. Any plans to go to the Sales this week?
Funny you ask that! I’m itching to get involved with owning race horses again. I think it’s time to get Claire’s colours out and find another ‘Emblem Of Liberty’. We raced her with Lionel Cohen and she was our best horse. Geoff Woodruff trained her. I won the Gr1 Paddock Stakes on her in 2009.
There is no bigger thrill than owning a winner and that being said after I personally have ridden over 1300 winners!