It is common knowledge in racing circles that veteran Ashburton trainer Duncan Howells doesn’t suffer fools when it comes to his stable jockeys.
But the Hollywoodbets-sponsored trainer suggests that 20 year old Thabiso Gumede is the ‘complete package’ and destined for the top – if he can stay on the straight and narrow.
The 20 year Candiese Lenferna Photography-sponsored Thabiso had a glorious day to remember at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Sunday when he booted home a double for the Howells yard.
The young man’s first winning ride of the afternoon on Let’s Twist Again also brought up his ‘coming-of-age’ 60th career winner, which entitled him to his SA Jockey Academy white blazer.
It was a proud culmination of seventeen months of hard work – lest we forget that it was the very Thabiso Gumede who rode the first winner back on 1 June 2020 after over two months of covid isolation last year!
Leading owner Dave Maclean’s Let’s Twist Again was having his first run for the Howells outfit on transfer from Mike de Kock, and apprentice Gumede did everything right.
Watch the replay here:
“I spotted Thabiso’s talent some time ago and asked him to come and work for me,” says Duncan Howells, an accomplished amateur rider in his day.
“He has plenty of talent. He is balanced in the saddle and on top of it, he is a natural lightweight who has good body strength. Furthermore, he is prepared to work hard and listen – and to accept criticism and feedback.”
Duncan says that Thabiso has a natural feel for a horse, which is another of his great assets.
“You can’t learn that connection or be taught it out of a textbook. You either have it or you don’t. He certainly is the complete package and destined for good things.”
But Duncan warns that some of the apprentices that leave the academy are not streetwise, and that they can lose their way in the big wide world.
“That would be my one concern – not in Thabiso’s specific case, but generally speaking. They lose their way and then reality hits home two years down the line and they try and make a comeback. And once you are labelled as lazy or uncommitted, it’s difficult to shake it off and it can set the standard for your career.”
Talking to the Sporting Post on Monday, Thabiso said that he had plenty to be thankful for to Duncan Howells, whom he regarded as a father figure and guiding light, to his family, his sponsor for encouragement and guidance, and to Hollywoodbets who had awarded him a bursary to complete his training and studies.
We asked Thabiso about the dynamics of his relationship with his boss and how he handled it.
“I listen and don’t get offended. If Mr Howells is angry or cross, it’s because I probably messed up and I’d rather listen and learn and avoid the mistake next time! I don’t sulk or get offended,” adds the man who came from a disadvantaged background three years ago to having the world at his feet today.
Thabiso grew up close to Summerveld and the SA Jockey Academy at Shongweni and has always credited his Uncle, a former SAJA Security Guard, with having introduced him to racing and a possible career as a jockey.
“The time has flown. It feels like yesterday that I arrived nervously at the gates. Now next month I am leaving the academy and going out there on my own. I cannot say a bad word about anybody at SAJA. I have learnt so much and made friends and met some really wonderful people.”
Thabiso only had his first race ride on 2 September 2018 at Hollywoodbets Scottsville when he piloted Kirav’s Tune for Kom Naidoo.
It took him some months and eight more rides to reach the winner’s enclosure. The horse was the longshot Fleek for Louis Goosen at Hollywoodbets Greyville on 19 April 2019. The young man was on his way and the Hollywoodbets Greyville polytrack remains his favourite racecourse.
Fast forward to October 2021, Thabiso says his medium term goal is to ride overseas and expand his horizons.
The arrival of his daughter Yankelo four months ago has also fast-tracked his dreams and he wants to make her proud.
“It is daunting and exciting leaving as the academy is a safe haven of sorts. But I’m going to be living with my Mom and my daughter in Shongweni and am looking forward to spending a lot of time with my family. And I need to purchase a car to get to work as I won’t be able to hitch a ride on the appie bus anymore!”
A last word from Thabiso’s proud sponsor, Equus Award-winning photographer, Candiese Lenferna.
“Thabiso has loads of talent and horses like to run for him. Once he hits the front, he keeps a horse going to the finish and I feel it has to be his balance that gives him an edge. I am so pleased that he and Duncan Howells have struck up a great partnership and I’m sure it’s going to lead to greater things in the future. It has been a true pleasure and privilege to sponsor Thabiso, and to participate in his journey to get to the 60 wins. It’s not often he just has winner on a day, he usually makes it a double!”
Candiese endorsed Duncan Howells positive outlook for the future.
“We are looking forward to what Thabiso can achieve in the future. He is receiving support from other trainers which is encouraging to see, and we must say a massive thank you to the SA Jockey Academy for all they have done for him and to Hollywoodbets for his bursary.”