Tag Archives: equilifesa

Bring The Bling ~ By Ashleigh Hughes

It’s not often one gets to witness a true “rags to riches” story in real time. To see that person become not just very successful but a national champion in their field, is something very special. S’manga Khumalo is that person. He is a record breaker and a trend setter, a person looked up to and adored by a whole legion of fans around the country. He is the first black South African to ride the winner of the Vodacom Durban July and the first black South African to win the national Jockey’s Championship – twice! He has risen above extreme adversity to become one of the most successful jockeys in our country’s history.

Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal Photo Courtesy: Gold Circle

Khumalo grew up in KwaMashu, which was one of the most violent areas in South Africa, during the apartheid era. The unrest during these troubled times was at its zenith during his early school days. His mother was a domestic worker and he grew up poverty-stricken, with very limited opportunities in every aspect of his life. He was one of 5 children – he has one brother and three sisters. Being exceptionally short in stature, he was often picked on by fellow schoolchildren. He dreamed of growing taller to defend himself.

He was at Mzuvele High School when the scouts from the South African Jockey Academy came to talk to the pupils there. He was approached immediately because of his small size but he was very sceptical about what they were suggesting. Horseracing was a very white-dominated industry in those days, and Khumalo could not see himself being part of that world. He’d never even touched a horse in his life at that stage. But in July 2000 his mind was changed. His interest in racing had been piqued and he started reading the racing sections in the local papers. Khumalo saw that the late Gift Funeka was going to be the very first black jockey to ride in the Durban July. His mount was a tall dark bay gelding called His Nibs (NZ), who was trained by Anil Maharaj. His Nibs (NZ) finished unplaced in the race but Funeka’s ground-breaking ride was enough to inspire Khumalo to follow up with the Jockey Academy.

When he entered the Academy, Khumalo was quite overwhelmed. The cultural and language difficulties seemed almost insurmountable but the SAJA are world renowned for their one-on-one guidance of their apprentice jockeys. The staff made sure he was not left to flounder and he picked up on everything very quickly. That year also saw Robert and Sandile Khathi, Sihle Cele and the late Sylvester Mtshali join the Academy. They all formed a firm friendship and with each other’s support, they all flourished as apprentices.

Most apprentices are relocated to other centres when they have completed their third year at the Academy itself. Khumalo was relocated to Zimbabwe and with support from Lisa Harris and Kirk Swanson, he rode his very first winner there. The Johannesburg Jockey Academy master at the time was Robert Moore – a ex-Zimbabwean himself. Moore quickly realised that Khumalo was an above average rider and recommended he be relocated to Johannesburg.

Smanga 2

Being apprenticed to a trainer like Alec Laird is a very strong boost for a young jockey’s career and it certainly was the catalyst for Khumalo’s tremendous success. Based at the North Rand Training Centre in Randjesfontein, Khumalo rode work for a number of the bigger trainers who train from there. Not only was he getting rides from the Laird stable but Sean Tarry also recognised his potential as a rider so he gave him many opportunities to ride some top horses. Khumalo also rode a lot of work at Turffontein where he found the support of Joe Soma and Chris Erasmus.

By the time Khumalo graduated from the Jockey Academy in 2006, he’d ridden approximately 120 winners in total. Every jockey dreams of riding a Gr1 winner and his chance came up in March 2011 aboard St John Gray’s superstar mare, Dancewiththedevil. Khumalo rode the tenacious mare to victory in the R1 Million Gr1 Horse Chestnut 1600m, beating a field of colts and geldings by 5.5 lengths. A mere 17 days later he won a second Gr1 aboard Dancewiththedevil – the Gr1 Empress Club Stakes. A year later he partnered the mare again and won the G1 Horse Chestnut 1600m again, beating the boys once more. That was just the start of Khumalo’s meteoric rise to the top.

On 1 December 2012, Khumalo won the Gr1 Sansui Summer Cup aboard the Joe Soma-trained Wagner. The Summer Cup was first run in December 1888 and is one of the biggest racing events on the Johannesburg racing calendar. Khumalo has always held Soma in high regard and often mentions him as one of his early mentors. “He’s tough to work for but very fair. And he gave me many opportunities at the start of my professional career”.

The Gr1 victories did not stop there and in April 2013, Khumalo piloted the Sean Tarry-trained Heavy Metal to win the Gr1 Premier’s Champions Challenge. That race is always a good indicator for Durban July potential and in 2013 it was true to form. Heavy Metal dug deep under Khumalo to beat the Snaith trained Run For It by just 0.3 lengths.

But this was no ordinary victory. S’manga Khumalo became the very first black jockey to win the Gr1 Vodacom Durban July. It was a sensational moment for everyone involved but possibly most of all for Smanga’s mother. “As I came to the number one box down at the grandstand, my mum was there in front. She was screaming and thanking all the people that made it possible and also looking back to her family and to our ancestors. She was thanking all of them, from the grandmother to great-grandmother – because they watch over us. They’re like our ‘guiding angels’. She was overwhelmed and happy.”

As a youngster Khumalo often referred to Nelson Mandela as his hero. He said that Mandela had changed the course of history which allowed people like himself to have an opportunity to be successful. Before the start of the 2013 Vodacom Durban July, there was a 67 second period of silence to pay respect to Mandela, who was gravely ill at the time. In the post-race interview, Khumalo dedicated his win to his hero Madiba and there was not a dry eye anywhere.

Khumalo’s winning streak meant that he was in with a very good chance of winning the national jockey’s premiership. And even though he had made history at Greyville that Saturday winning the Durban July, he had 4 rides at Turffontein in Johannesburg the next day. He decided to forego the celebrations and so he was in good form the next day, riding another winner. At this stage he was riding in races five days every week, literally travelling the entire country to chase as many winners as he could. It was not in vain and for the second time in a month he made South African history, winning the National Jockey’s Championship for the first time. He was the first black South African to achieve this!

It was not easy winning the jockey’s championship for the 2013/ 2014 season, which is always hotly contested every year. Khumalo travelled the country to ride 1381 horses to win 185 races. His nearest rival, Richard Fourie, rode 143 winners to finish second. In third place was Khumalo’s long-time friend Muzi Yeni, who rode 142 winners. The following season Khumalo finished second to Gavin Lerena. They rode 220 and 198 winners respectively. It was in the 2015/ 2016 season that Khumalo really showed his mettle, winning the national championship again. This time he had 243 wins from 1348 rides.

In early 2014 Khumalo secured the ride on a little bay filly trained by Sean Tarry called Carry On Alice. She made her debut in the Gr3 Pretty Polly Stakes, which is rather unusual, and she finished a creditable third behind the very useful Majmu (AUS). She won her next two starts also under Khumalo, including the Gr1 South African Nursery, against the colts. This was just the beginning of a very fruitful relationship between Khumalo and Carry on Alice. He rode her in every one of her victories, which included five Gr1 wins all over the country. She rounded off her remarkable career at Scottsville Racecourse on 27 May 2017, winning the Gr1 South African Fillies Sprint. This brought her tally to 11 wins from 29 starts, with 13 places and R4 586 562 in stakes. It was a dream partnership for all involved.

Carry On Alice 27 May

Carry on Alice Photo Courtesy: Gold Circle

 

 

Khumalo is well-known for his trendsetting fashion sense and his nickname “Bling” comes from his trademark diamond stud earrings. He is the South African dream personified. He grew up in abject poverty and rose up to the very top of his game, in spite of the many challenges he has faced. He has moved his mother out of the township and bought her a house in a more affluent suburb. He continues to support her and his other family members. They are always at the races to support him especially on the big race days. When asked if he has a “woman behind the successful man”, he always refers to his mother. “She is my pillar of strength. Without her, there is no S’manga Khumalo.”

LoveRacing1

A Special Kind of Groom ~ Sikhangele Mbambo

Have you ever spoken to someone on the phone and instantly wished you could meet them? Ngqayimbana Mveleli or Franz as he is famously known is one such gentleman. He has a keen wit, thinks on his feet and had me laughing from the first sentence till I had regrettably finished my interview.

Franz comes from the Eastern Cape and is one of a family of 10. A married man, he is a father to 3 boys aged 11, 6 and 4. His schooling journey reached its end in 1995, and his journey as a groom began in 1997 when he was employed by Linda Augustyn from Epona Equestrian Centre, in the Western Cape. He looked after 6 horses, which competed in Eventing, Showing and Dressage.  This is where he learnt all the basics of grooming and looking after horses. After 4 years he left Epona and became a relief groom for the next 3 years, eventually joining Equestria Show – Jumping Yard working for Tori Rohde Coughlan in 2013. 4 years later, he is still there, evidence that he finally has found his niche. His happiness and contentment clearly comes through.

Franz

 

Tori herself cannot say enough about him, they have a very strong working relationship;

“Franz joined Equestria Show – Jumping Yard in 2013 He very quickly became my right hand man, as his knowledge of horses soon became apparent. He  seems to instinctively know when a horse is unhappy or having an issue, particularly his beloved Nachtmusik. But it is more than just his proficiency with horses, it is his deep love of horses and all animals, his Pitbull Febe makes regular  appearances as his Whatsapp profile pic. In short it is this  combination of experience, knowledge and caring that  makes Franz such a wonderful member of the  Equestria Show – Jumping Yard team.”

 What more can one say? Beautifully said and I bet everyone wants a groom like that.  

So what does a day as a groom entail?

Franz gets to work at 7:00am, and goes to check that the horses are all healthy and physically well. He then dishes out breakfast and changes the water. He also fills the teff nets and water buckets in the paddocks before taking the horses out. Depending on the season, the right blankets are put on and at 8:30am the horses go out and Franz comes back to muck out the stables. Lunch for the horses is at 11.30am and this takes him to his own lunch at 12:00pm.  He gets back at 2pm, cleans the paddocks, checks that none of that horses have been hurt and the fences are still intact. The horses are then taken back to the stables and given a thorough grooming, The horses have different owners so each has their own grooming kit. Supper is at 4:30pm and it is important to ensure that the horses have fresh water for the night and their hay nets are filled. His day ends at 4:45pm

Has he got riding experience?

Oh yes, he grew up around horses, racing them with his friends, nothing commercial, just boys having fun.

What other duties has he got?

He helps Tori in handling and working the horses, on some days he will lunge the horses or walk them out. They get a lot of young horses, train them and re-sell them

What shows has he attended?

He and Tori have been all over, Shongweni, Johannesburg, Polokwane

What is his best venue?

Shongweni, it has a lovely environment and beautiful amenities.

What advice does he give Tori before she enters the ring?

Believe in yourself and trust the horse. She is such an amazing rider, she is talented and is lucky to have a good horse to work with. She needs to believe in herself, he does and Muse does too. (sniff, sniff)

What would Franz like to see changed in the lives of grooms?

It bugs him a lot the way some employers view their grooms. They look down on them and do not have faith in their capabilities. They forget that the groom is the one that spends the most time with the horse and therefore knows more about the horse than most people. Trusting someone with your horse is like trusting someone with your child, for your horse to be given love and respect, you have to give it to the groom first. What he feels that most people do not get is that it is teamwork between groom, horse and rider. He has witnessed instances where the groom will tell the rider what he thinks is wrong with horse and it gets brushed off with a ‘what do you know attitude‘ and later it comes to light that the groom was right all along.

What does he forecast in his future?

He would like to learn how to train horses properly, own a horse farm, produce good horses and run a livery.

 It was a wonderful chat and I hope that one of these days I will meet Franz face to face and experience his humor first hand. He is very passionate about horses and I imagine that he has a lot more to tell than this interview can cover.

Tori sums him up quite nicely,

 “He’s funny – has pulled the Mickey on me a few times with  a straight face. He takes it seriously if I mess  up a round with his beloved horse”

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