DURBAN-BRED, LIGHTWEIGHT JOCKE STANDING TALL IN THE STIRRUPS
Written by Galia Hillhouse, Durban Routes
Muziwandile Yeni is a born-and-bred Durbanite. Now in the running as one of South Africa’s top five jockeys, Muzi considers his humble beginnings. “I was raised in Clermont by my grandparents, who sold chickens to put us through school. My father was a long distance truck driver…” He recalls how his father had, from time to time, raised the topic of Muzi potentially becoming a jockey. He confesses that the concept did not appeal to him, and that he was oblivious to the opportunities that existed outside the life he knew – one of community-living and attending Pinetown Junior and later, Pinetown High School.
Things were about to change for young Muzi. After a successful interview at the National Jockey Academy when he was 14 years old, Muzi was enrolled the following year. Still feeling a little dubious about the matter, he decided to take his beloved grandfather’s advice and give it his best shot. After five years at Summerveld, he graduated in 2007, at the age of 21. “When did you realise that this was something that you could do?” I ask. “When I started winning” he answers, with a smile of determination. At this point Muzi adopted a one-track mind, blinkers-on approach. His highly-competitive nature, coupled with the excellent mentoring he received at the Academy, proved to be a winning combination. His naturally light build gave him an added edge.
A stable environment… From childhood days he has loved animals, but it was during his time at Summerveld that Muzi discovered that he has a special affinity with horses. “I have been complemented for handling horses very well”, he tells, emphasising how important it is for a jockey to have a good understanding of breeding, training and what conditions are ideal for each horse. “It will determine your success”, he explains.
Career on track…
Muzi achieved an impressive 79 wins during his time as an apprentice jockey and more than 1000 wins since turning professional. He currently races every second day – throughout South Africa, and at most racing venues within KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng. He has also gained racing experience in South Korea, Macau, Brazil and Zimbabwe. He rides an average of 800 horses per year and as many as 30 races during an average week. He is an incredibly hardworking jockey, with over 36 million in winning stakes and over R 15 million in place stakes currently under his name. His ranking on the South African Jockey log has gained ground from 41st position in 2006/2007 to an impressive 05th place, which he currently holds for the 2015/2016 period.
Some of Muzi’s major race wins to date include the R 2 million President’s Champions Challenge (2011), R 700 000 Ladbrokes Champions Cup (2012), R 600 000 Allan Robertson Championship (2014) and the Thekwini Stakes (2015). Grade Two wins achieved Gold Circle Oaks (2010), Betting World 1900 (2011), Betting World Derby (2012), SABC Gold Vase (2015) and The Debutante (2015).
Hitting the Jackpot… It appears that jockey life can be lonely. “Lonely are the brave”, Muzi muses, “but I have a very few close friends that make this walk of life much easier… and my family of-course”. Aside from horse racing, Muzi has made a major win of another kind. “I am now married to my beautiful wife, Kim, whom I met in my last year at the academy, when she was working for the NHRA in Jo’burg. Fast forward nine years, and we are still married and have two beautiful daughters – Amu and Linda”.
Read more about Muzi on www.durbanroutes.co.za
Q & A
Q Name some of the major highlights in your career thus far.
A Winning Group 1 races.
Q Only a small percentage of the jockeys that enter the academy actually qualify. Why is that?
A Not everyone is born to be a jockey.
Q On a scale of 1 to 10, how competitive are you?
Q At what stage did you realise that you loved the sport?
A How easy I took to riding horses and not feeling disadvantaged with my small stature, like in most sports.
Q In your opinion, what makes the Durban July different to other races in South Africa?
A Prestige and the most highly sorted race to win.
Q List five words that best describe your personality.
A Vibrant, outgoing, outspoken, easy and kind (my wife says).
Q What is your favourite food?
A My wife is a great cook, and am blessed to have no weight issues because she loves cooking, and I love eating home-cooked meals. My favourite would have to be pap and chops with tomato gravy, and when we do go out I normally would indulge in a seafood pasta.
Q Who stepped into the role as your mentor, during your time at the Jockey Academy?
A Nathan Kotzen (Mike De Kock’s Assistant Trainer) was like a dad to me. He taught me a lot about horses and invited me into his home – and for that will forever be grateful to him and his family!
Q Name two of your role models.
A Pierre Strydom and Anthony Delpech.
Q Being a jockey is a race in itself. What helps you to handle the pressure?
A Trust in my faith.
Q Name a few of the most famous owners and trainers you have worked with.
A Mike De Kock. Duncan Howells, Dominique Zaki, Ormond Farraris and Chesney Van Zyl.
Q Where do you see yourself five years from now?
A I see myself approaching 2000 wins in my career, and hopefully I will get the opportunity to go abroad and add more Grade 1 races to my resume.
VODACOM DURBAN JULY (2200M AT GREYVILLE RACECOURSE)
2009 – 4th
2010 – 5th
2012 – 5th
2014 – 12th
DATE OF BIRTH 06 December 1986
RIDING HEIGHT/WEIGHT 1.4m / 49kg