FRANCIS SEMELA is a young rider with loads of talent. He won the 2012-13 Work Riders’ Challenge and looks set to win the Equus title as well.
Here is a profile of Semela by NICCI GARNER of Racing Express.
Francis Semela, who Mike Azzie describes as “a nice chap, hard-working and very quiet but with a sense of humour”, won R25,000 on Saturday at the third Work Riders’ Challenge meeting – R5,000 for being the leading point-scorer at the fixture and R20,000 for winning the test.
And he didn’t stop there. At the Vaal on Tuesday, Semela won the race for work riders aboard 5-10 favourite In Eighty Days, showing how important confidence is in this game.
The win took his seasonal score on the overall work-riders’ standings to 11, three more than Charles Ndlovu, Samuel Mosia and Tom Lukhele, who have ridden eight winners each.
The 2012-13 Work Riders’ Challenge was only Semela’s second test – he was runner-up to the late Abram Makhubo last year and dedicated the win “to my good friend – I wanted to win to show how much I miss my brother”.
The Challenge, a three-meeting test at which all the horses are ridden by work riders, is worth a total of R50,000. The riders earn points for finishing first (10), second (seven), third (five) and fourth (three) and the top rider at each meeting wins R5,000.
Francis Semela (hollywoodbets.net)
Although he went into Saturday’s meeting as the log leader in the Challenge, Semela had not won the top-rider award at either of the first two meetings. Chamu Mabaya won the prize at Leg 1 last October and Jackson Feni took the prize at Leg 2 in February. Semela was the most consistent rider overall, winning four races and placing another eight times.
On Saturday he beat Mosia and Feni, who received cheques for R10,000 and R5,000 for finishing second and third in the Challenge.
The Work Riders’ Challenge has an important role to play in the Work Riders’ Training Programme run by trainer James Maree because it showcases the skills of the graduates. It also tests them in “examination” conditions, which sharpens their skills and gives them a better understanding of the horses they ride in work every morning. The races provide an extra opportunity to earn good money because every rider gets the riding fee and earns the jockeys’ portion of the stake if they finish in the frame. And the meetings have resulted in a couple of the riders landing contracts overseas – including Semela.
Here’s his story:
Date of birth: 24 February 1987 at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
Grew up: In Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State. I now live in Midrand, five minutes from Randjesfontein Training Centre where I ride work, mostly for Mike de Kock, Mike Azzie and Paul Matchett.
How did you get involved in racing? My mother worked for trainer Terry Lowe and I’d visit her during the school holidays. I liked the horses a lot, but didn’t start working with them until after she died and I had to give up trade school. I first started working as a groom for Charles Laird and then went to Mike Azzie in 2006. He was the man who gave me my chances. He enrolled me at James Maree’s school for the first three-month course in 2008 when I was 21 years old and I’m a work rider today because of him. I learnt so many things on Mr Maree’s farm and still go back for extra lessons.
First raceride: Divine Qui for Penny Kimberley. He finished a well-beaten 12th in a 1200m race at the Vaal on 8 May 2008. In my first 20 races before I won I learnt that I mustn’t panic, to be myself and ride as I would at track. That this was more speedy but it was nothing scary. The more you ride in races the more you get used to it.
First winner: I’m Back for Mr Azzie on 8 August 2010. I was very happy because it was something that I didn’t think would come so soon. It came because of the support I got from Mr Azzie.
Number of winners: 25 and 51 places from 130 rides.
Riding weight: 56kg.
How has becoming a work rider changed your life? (Most of the work riders were grooms before attending Maree’s school, some earning R500 and less a week): It has made a big difference in my life, although I miss working with the horses a lot. Sometimes we get lazy because we only work in the mornings and have quite a few afternoons free. So I go to gym and play soccer (my team is Two-Touch, which is sponsored by Winning Form. As a work rider I am also sponsored by Winning Form).
I travelled to Dubai and Hong Kong with Mr De Kock in 2008. He is the champion trainer in the world and while I was there I rode alongside Weichong Marwing, Kevin Shea and international jockeys like Johnny Murtagh and Christophe Soumillon. They taught me a lot, especially Mr Shea, about pace and tactics and riding, to get up there for nothing. And to do my homework, to read a Racecard before a meeting and study the form; to concentrate on my work all the time. I saw so many things, but (the highlight was that) I got to spend a lot of time with the horses. Hong Kong is a lovely place. Racing means a lot to the people there. It’s like soccer here with big crowds and lots of support.
Going to Dubai must be the best moment in my life. Riding on the new Meydan track was something different, something special. I won’t go overseas again, though – I won’t get the chance. But please be sure to put in a BIG thank you to Mr De Kock for his support.
Best horses ridden: The late Lizard’s Desire. He was one of my favourite horses. I’ve also ridden (Durban July winners) Igugu and Bold Silvano.
What separates the best jockeys from the good jockeys? It’s all about hard work and good support. The more winners a jockey rides the better he gets.
The Work Riders’ Challenge? This is only the second time I’ve competed in the Work Riders’ Challenge. I finished second behind my late brother Abram Makhubo last year. He was a champion work rider and we spent a lot of time together before he died. I really want to win it for him, so I can show how much I miss him.
Headline photo: Francis Semela wins on Sheikh Hamdan’s In EightyDays (Mike de Kock, Vaal, Tuesday 7 May).