Racing Bids Sad Farewell To Top Jockey

8 March 1953 - 6 January 2024

A former top heavyweight jockey and accomplished international riding master , Kenny Michel passed away on Saturday after a long battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.

A charismatic personality and a top-class golfer, the Pietermaritzburg-born Kenny Michel joined the SA Jockey Academy in 1969 in the same era as the likes of Stephen Page, Errol Lang, Paddy McGivern and Garth Puller.

A young apprentice Kenny Michel

He was apprenticed to the late Lionel Witkowsky and quickly caught the eye as a horseman of great balance and a natural sportman with good hands.

He freelanced and rode winners for a variety of top yards, including Peter Kannemeyer, James Lightheart and Lenny Taylor.

Kenny enjoyed an early Gr1 success when he guided San Louis to victory for trainer James Lightheart in the Richelieu Cape Guineas, which was run at Milnerton on 7 February 1981.

Kenny’s win on San Louis was carried on the cover of the 1982 renewal

Kenny won many features, including the Diadem, which he celebrated twice. The 1200m speed contest was described as the best test of a sprinter in South Africa by Charles Faull and a race on a par with the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate, until the conditions were ‘compromised’ in 2015.

In 1982 Kenny won the Diadem on Breeze Past for Chris Snaith.It was a windless day and Kenny took him to the front and held on from the Ralph Rixon-trained Craftsman, leaving a great field behind them.

The ride was lauded in the media as a tactical masterstroke.

Kenny Michel was back again to win the Diadem in 1985 on Mrs Mary Zoccola’s Gin Rummy, beating Chili Bite

As a freelance rider he enjoyed a winning association with Lenny Taylor’s versatile Do Battle gelding Horatius.

On New Year’s day of 1982, he partnered Horatius to fourth in the Queen’s Plate won by Basil Marcus on Foveros. Eric Fordred was second on Bless My Soul, with Kenny’s 1981 Cape Guineas winning mount San Louis in third, this time with Paddy McGivern in the saddle.

Kenny and Horatius came close to upsetting the applecart when the pair chased Basil Marcus and Foveros home in the 1982 J&B Met, with Eric Fordred and Captive Prince, and Garth Puller and Calvados making up the quartet.

Weight eventually forced him to retire from the saddle, and after a short stint as a trainer, he became a riding master at the SA Jockey Academy, which ultimately led to his groundbreaking stint as a coach for the Korea Racing Authority in Seoul. It was a role that he relished as he imparted his horsemanship and his hard-earned life stripes and skills to young apprentices.

His ex-wife Wendy told the Sporting Post that she met Kenny through her Uncle, Dennis Houston, a trainer. They married two years later when she was 18, and Kenny was 22.

Daddy’s little girl – Genevieve Michel was a pioneer in the riding ranks for the fairer sex

Wendy, a talented amateur rider and assistant trainer, and Kenny, had two children – Craig and Genevieve, and three grandchildren.

While Craig pursued a business career, Genevieve was to go on and proudly follow in her Dad’s bootprints as a top jockey.

She enjoys the distinction of being the first female to be trained at the SA Jockey Academy, and the first lady rider in history to participate in the Met.

On 10 May 1997, a proud Kenny and Genevieve rode at Kenilworth to make history as the first father-and-daughter professional jockey duo to race against each other.

Gen and Dad Kenny

A career-ending injury suffered in track work in 2001 saw the energetic, and now Namibia-based Mum pursue other challenges.

She was to go on and represent South Africa at the International Masters World Cross-Country Mountain Bike Championships.

Retired champion jockey Karl Neisius told the Sporting Post on Sunday that passion and commitment characterized every aspect of life for his late friend of 40 years, Kenny Michel.

“I met Kenny in the Academy. I was a first year, he was in his fourth. He loved his racing and golf. He was passionate about anything he tackled. He didn’t believe in doing things half. We will miss him on the racecourse and the golf course. The last few months weren’t easy, but he received excellent care. My condolences to the family. A good man has left us,” added Karl.

A photograph taken a few years ago of Kenny and Gen

Kenny Michel was a legend on the fairways of the Milnerton Golf Course, where he holds the record of a hole-in-one on every hole possible.

The fourteenth hole took him the longest time to master, and it is here that the former top jockey requested that his ashes be scattered.

Kenny is survived by his four children, being Craig and Genevieve from his first wife, Wendy, and Kyle and Eric from his second wife, Genevieve.

Our condolences and sympathies are extended to the family and friends of a sportsman who will be sorely missed.

Details of the memorial service will be advised on this platform.

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