Felix Coetzee has done it all in horseracing and the lovable legend rode his 3500th winner in Sunday’s Gr3 Matchem Stakes on the Snaith’s Changingoftheguard. Who is this magician we know affectionately as ‘Felix The Cat’?
David Felix Coetzee was born in Durban on 7 March 1959. He is from a dyed in the wool racing family – his father Hennie and his four uncles were all licenced trainers.
At 15, Felix enrolled at the Jockey Academy at Summerveld and then served his apprenticeship riding for his father in Natal .
He rode his first winner in July 1974 and his first big race win was the 1975 Clairwood Winter Handicap on Kentford, although it was a chance ride. Former KZN Chief Stipe Harold Taylor was engaged to ride, but had to stand down due to injury. The ride passed to Garth Puller who was also indisposed and Felix was given the chance ride.
When his father passed away, the Academy transferred Felix to Theo De Klerk’s stable in the Cape. This period proved seminal. Dana Siegenberg was De Klerk’s stable jockey at the time. He was in the form of his life and worse, could ride at a lower weight than Felix.
After a frustrating period with limited riding opportunities, Felix cultivated his now trademark work ethic. He was the first to arrive at gallops and the last to leave and his professionalism and dedication have become hallmarks of his career.
A surprise engagement on Peter Kannemeyer’s Sunshine Man in the 1980 J&B Met catapulted him into the limelight. Felix then struck up a partnership with champion trainer Terrance Millard. After an offer from Jean Heming we narrowly lost him to Johannesburg, but a last minute change of heart saw him formally take over as the Millard stable jockey in 1982.
They formed a formidable partnership which lasted until Mr Millard’s retirement in 1991.
In 1992, Felix accepted an offer to ride in Hong Kong and spent five years riding for trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee. He then switched to the David Hill yard and in 1999 moved to Tony Cruz. This proved a very successful association and earned him numerous Gr1 wins, most notably his 17 race winning streak aboard multiple World Champion Sprinter, Silent Witness.
Felix is still hugely in demand abroad, most recently in Singapore aboard Fred Crabbia’s Rocket Man.
He’s been SA Champion Jockey 3 times (1984/85, 1987/88 and 1989/90) and narrowly missed out in 1982/83 (due to a bout of encephalitis), 1985/86 (due to a 3 week suspension) and 1988/89 (due to a broken arm).
With the notable exception of the Queen’s Plate, he has won every big race South Africa has to offer including the Durban July Handicap 3 times (1984 aboard Devon Air, 1988 on Royal Chalice and 1990 on Illustrador), the J&B Metropolitan Stakes 5 times (1980 on Sunshine Man, 1983 on Arctic Cove, 1988 on Mark Anthony, 1990 on Jungle Warrior, 1991 on Olympic Duel), and made history in this year’s Gold Cup which he lifted for a record-breaking 8th time aboard In Writing.
What more does one say about one of the greats of the game?
Well done Felix – we salute you.