“We are all under pressure to ride and earn a living, but compromising safety is simply not negotiable,” says multiple champion jockey Piere Strydom following his decision on step down from his rides on Tuesday and not to ride further on that afternoon at a racetrack he labels ‘the world’s worst.’
The Vaal sandtrack out at Vereeniging has become the most talked about racecourse in the country in recent times.
Together with his more junior colleagues, Ian Sturgeon, Gavin Lerena and Karl Zechner, Striker opted to take no further part in the Tuesday meeting after the fifth race, citing safety concerns.
This is a far cry from the celebrations that greeted him a few days earlier at the same venue when he was acknowledged for riding a remarkable 5000 winners on SA soil.
The official Stipes Report confirms the action of the quartet of jockeys on Tuesday, 26 May.
AFTER THE RUNNING OF RACE 5 A PANEL OF JOCKEYS EXPRESSED CONCERNS REGARDING THE SAFETY OF THE VAAL SAND TRACK. THE TRACK WAS INSPECTED AND IT WAS DECIDED THAT IT WAS SAFE TO CONTINUE RACING AND RACES 6, 7 AND 8 WERE RESCHEDULED. JOCKEYS G LERENA, P STRYDOM, I STURGEON AND K ZECHNER WERE NOT PREPARED TO CONTINUE RIDING AND THEY WERE REPLACED ON THEIR RESPECTIVE MOUNTS.
This unprecedented action followed the abandonment of the meeting at the same track, the previous Thursday.
That debacle has been well covered. Read the background here.
“The Vaal sand is not a racetrack and I can’t imagine there is a worse track anywhere else on earth,” says Strydom with little emotion in his voice.
He added that he had ridden for long enough and on a variety of tracks internationally and locally to know what he was talking about.
“Besides the reasons I gave you when you interviewed me last year – that included the fact that horses go in too deep, and that divots are created and there is ridiculous kickback- the horses are also slipping at the jump and then stumbling.”
“That makes for roulette type racing, as besides the obvious increased dangers, the front runners are often impossible to catch. I gave you the beach example – try running at the waves edge and then run on the dunes – it is a massive difference.”
Striker explained that the track was being harrowed to even it out, but that just left loose sand on top of the surface.
“On Thursday last week, the horses were stumbling and losing their footing on the turn too. What has happened is that as a result of the constant harrowing and levelling, the sand has built up under the rails on the border of the track. And they landed up spreading that loose stuff over the surface.”
We asked him whether he felt that the Vaal could be saved.
“I have accepted rides there for this coming Thursday and obviously we will continue to monitor it. I hope they succeed for racing’s sake – but my personal opinion is that they will never get it right. They need to make another plan.”
What of the polytrack at Randjesfontein?
“I have ridden there a few times and it causes jarring. It isn’t a desirable track in my opinion. And I know too little about polytrack maintenance and related climate impact to express an informed judgement as to what could be done to improve it. However, I have ridden twice on the Greyville polytrack, and what a difference! It is a fantastic surface to ride on. There is no slipping and kickback and the track is fair. Horses can win from up there and from off them. That is what trainers, owners and punters want. It makes form study relevant,” he said.
He added that he had not ridden on the Fairview polytrack, but feedback from his colleagues was that it was even better than Greyville. “The jocks are very happy with both polytrack surfaces,” he confirmed.
Strydom was on his way to Durban for the Daily News raceday.
“I don’t have the strongest of rides on Saturday but we are keen to see how Siren’s Call handles Greyville. I am concerned as she battles to get going at Turffontein – so that does not bode well for Greyville. But she is all class and heart and she has surely earned her berth in the July. Coltrane looks held in the Lonsdale Stirrup Cup,” he said.
He confirmed that the family would be staying in Ballito and having a ‘break on the beach’, returning to Joburg on Wednesday.”