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History Of The South African Jockey Academy

The training of apprentices was a somewhat haphazard affair in the early days of racing in Natal. At first “Hottentot” boys were used because they were light, skinny and small. Then boys began serve apprenticeship to “masters”.

In June 1926 the South African Jockey Club introduced a new set of rules for apprenticeship of jockeys with which all racing clubs in South Africa had to comply.

While boys could be apprenticed at an earlier age than before, they were not permitted to compete on race courses until they were 12 years of age, nor were they allowed to finish their apprenticeship before the age of 15. .After serving 12 months apprenticeship they were eligible for an even terms license.

The custom of allowing apprentices to attend race meetings on their own and accept freelance rides was forbidden. The rules stated: “No master shall allow his apprentice to ride at or attend any race meeting unless he himself is present or the apprentice is under the care and control of some person approved by the local executive of the Jockey Club”.

That apprentice jockey were sometimes very young in the early days , may be seen by the fact that at the turn of the century one of the leading jockeys in Pietermaritzburg (the City Sporting Club) was only eight years old . He was little George Badger who The Times of Natal acknowledged as “one of the principal and best known jockeys in Natal”.

He was so good, in fact , that in recognition of his outstanding contribution to racing, members of the racing fraternity in Pietermaritzburg presented little George with a silver cup and a cheque for a £100 at a banquet in his honour. In making the presentation racehorse owner Charles Barter recalled the time when Badger had won on his (Barter’s) horse and after the race dinner they had put the little jockey on a dish on the table and weighed him – he weighed only 43 lbs!

In 1932 a training school apprentices was mooted but it was only in October 1948, following a spate of mishaps and bad riding by apprentices, that such a school was again considered and G. Lariviere’s suggestion that he be allowed to coach in race riding was taken up by the Apprentices Welfare Committee with the owners and Trainers Association.

After lengthy meetings between stewards of the Durban Turf Club, the City Sporting Club and Clairwood, it was decided, with the approval of the Jockey Club of South Africa, to establish a School of Instruction in Horsemanship in Natal. A seven-strong Examining Board was established test apprentices ability. It included the chair men of the Durban and Clairwood Turf Clubs as well as the Club veterinarian S.T. Amos who had originally suggested the establishment of the training School.

In the early days life had been tough for apprentices when they lived, slept, ate in the homes and the eyes of the trainers to whom they were indentured for five years. Alec Salvage, of the owners and Trainers Association maintained that 99% of training depended not on the trainer but on the interest taken in the apprentice by the older and more and more experienced jockeys. He felt the older jockeys did nothing to help or teach the apprentices. In fact they did not hesitate to stop any kid from becoming a competitor. The only answer was to establish a supervised riding school.

A few years later, in 1954, the Transvaal veterinarian Dr George Pfaff started a small apprentice school in Johannesburg where he taught the boys about horses, their care and management.

In Natal two years went by before a deputation of owners and trainers met with stewards of the Durban Turf Club to again consider the establishment of a properly run school for apprentices in the province. They felt that the position of jockeys had deteriorated to such an extent that unless steps were taken to encourage boys to enter the profession the future of racing would be in jeopardy.

The owner’s grievances prompted the Jockey Club of South Africa in 1957 to establish an apprentice central investigation committee to formulate a future policy for the training and welfare of apprentice jockeys. They suggested that hostels be established in the main centers beginning with Durban.

Local Jockey Club Executive Member Basil Jenman, together with Armand Bestel and W.H. (Willy) Hamilton were appointed to investigate the matter. Hamilton was able to find a large house not far from Greyville racecourse in which to accommodate the apprentices and which was named Hamilton Lodge. Seven boys moved in at the beginning of August 1957 and the plan was to gradually increase the intake to a maximum of 20. The Jockey Club agreed to make a grant of £3 000 a year for three years.

The racing clubs were expected to give £50 every month and the Owners and Trainers Association and the Racehorse Owners Association agreed to a 1% deduction from all stakes as their contribution. Trainers would also contribute to the success of the school by paying £12 a month for each apprentice. In addition the Province granted £30 000 towards the establishment of the new Apprentice Riding School.

The boys were allowed to use the parade ring and hard track at Greyville while premises on the course were used as lecture rooms until other arrangements could be made.

Not long afterwards ten acres of land were acquired in Pinetown and in 1960 the Natal Jockey Academy came into being – under control of the Jockey Club of South Africa. It was on Mariannhill Road and was bought from the Mariannhill Monastery. A bookmaker in the Gold Ring, A.W. Gorton, was appointed controller.

The Province built a handsome white double-storied school and laid out grounds to provide riding practices areas, while the three Natal racing clubs and the province continued to give financial support.

One of the school’s early successes was apprentice jockey J. Gorton. By the time he had completed his indentures at the end of June 1966 had ridden 50 winners and was Judged leading apprentice of the year. Runner up was D. Cave with 21 winners.

Eleven years after the Mariannhill School was built the Academy became a national institution, changed its name to the South African Jockey Academy and moved to Shongweni. Twenty-two acres of land were bought by the Jockey Academy from Summerveld training centre and it became an integral part of Summerveld. The academy was built by Silvermine Construction and designed by Tommy Bedford, architect and former Springbok rugby player. It was officially opened by the Administrator of Natal the Hon. W. W. B. Havemann on June 29, 1972.

Basil Jenman, who was chairman of the Jockey Club in Natal for 25 years, became the first chairman of the Jockey Academy, a position he was to hold for the next 30 years. He was succeeded by Ben Jonsson.

Jonsson, who inherited his love of the Turf from his grandfather, F. L. Jonsson, a founder steward of the Durban Turf Club, was involved in all spheres of horse racing. Not only was he chairman of the of the Jockey Academy, but he was also vice-chairman of the local executive of the Jockey Club a steward of the head executive of the Jockey Club of South Africa, vice-president of the Natal Owners and Trainers Association, chairman of the Natal Owners and Trainers Benevolent Fund and chairman of the Natal Horse Care Unit.
Since 1972, every South African Champion Jockey has been a graduate of SAJA, beginning with Michael Roberts. It is testimony to the calibre of training offered by the Academy that jockeys produced here now compete with great success at most racing jurisdictions throughout the world. Other outstanding champion jockeys that have trained at SAJA include Basil Marcus, Douglas Whyte, Mark Khan, Felix Coetzee, Jeffrey Lloyd, Robbie Fradd, Anton Marcus, Anthony Delpech to name but a few.

During the 58 years of its existence, SAJA has produced:
• A UK champion jockey
• Several Macau and Singapore champion jockeys
• Many champion jockeys in Mauritius, and in
• No fewer than 18 of the last 21 years, the champion jockey in Hong Kong, the world’s richest racing jurisdiction.

In recent years Muzi Yeni has represented South Africa in the Jockey International Challenge and S’Manga Khumalo made history in 2013 to be the first black jockey to win the Vodacom Durban July and subsequently went on to be crowned South African Champion Jockey in 2014.

SAJA which is situated at Summerveld Training Centre in KwaZulu Natal has branches in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and employs professional riding masters and highly qualified educators.

A jockey apprenticeship lasts five years and over and above the practical riding and horsemanship training on offer, SAJA provides a highly career focused and customised educational curriculum (National Senior Certificate) for grade 10 – 12 as well as the National Certificate in Equine Studies.

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