South Africa

Rachel Venniker catches world’s top jockeys napping

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Rachel Venniker deserved a hero’s welcome on her return to South Africa from Saudi Arabia, where she brought glory to her country and its racing industry with a brilliant win at the final leg of the International Jockey Challenge last week.

The country’s only female professional jockey showed a worldwide television audience what local racing people already knew: she is a very talented young horsewoman.

Friday evening at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh was lit up by a ray of East Coast sunshine as Venniker flashed her trademark smile and blurted a volley of “thank yous” in an unmistakable Durban accent.

As she trotted Cliffs Of Fury to the winners’ circle after a clever tactical ride that bamboozled a score of the world’s best jockeys – in the R7.7-million Invest Saudi IJC Handicap over 2100m – Venniker revealed to a roving mic that the great Muis Roberts had been key to the triumph.

“… there are so many people to thank … but, you know, Mr Michael Roberts back home has helped me a helluva lot with this track …” she said. The multiple SA champion, now a trainer, clearly imparted insights from his years of experience on left-handed turf tracks with short straights.

Another familiar face on Team Rachel was five-time SA champion trainer Geoff Woodruff, now a resident conditioner in Riyadh, who walked the course with the young jockey before the meeting, passing on his
accumulated knowledge of the conditions.

Woodruff saddled one of Venniker’s four IJC rides, but that runner and two others disappointed on the day and SA’s two-time champion apprentice had no points on the board coming into the fourth and final leg.

Tough competition

The signs were not auspicious. Cliffs Of Fury had rubbish form and was drawn 10 of 14. Lining up alongside Rachel were World’s Best Jockey Ryan Moore, Aussie veteran Damien Oliver, French champion Maxime Guyon and title defender Luiz Saez from the US – not to mention six other international female riders of considerable repute.

As the gates crashed open, Venniker coolly steered Cliffs Of Fury over to the inside-rail melee – a quick, decisive move that did not expend much of the gelding’s energy.

The pair sat prominent around the long turn. Then Rachel pounced, catching her rivals flatfooted as the field straightened up and she shot into the lead. Two cracks of the whip were enough to keep the five-year-old rolling to victory by a head.

Racegoers will no doubt show their appreciation when Venniker takes seven rides on the Greyville Polytrack – as soon as Tuesday, showing dedication to the job that has become a characteristic.

The overall Challenge winner was France’s leading female jockey Maryline Eon, with a win and a second place. In second place was local champion jockey Camilo Ospina, who is originally from Colombia, and third was Brazilian Victoria Mota. Venniker and Saez were joint fourth.

Eon collected a $30,000 (R580,000) winner’s share of the IJC’s $100,000 (R1.9 million) prize pool.

All stakes-winning riders were reported to be granted 15% of their respective prizes.