CHAMPION Work Rider Chamu Mabaya, a regular early morning work partner for Mike de Kock’s top filly Majmu, talks about his career to NICCI GARNER of Racing Express.
The Work Riders’ Challenge, held over three meetings, was introduced in 2008 by Phumelela, the Racing Association and the Thoroughbred Horseracing Trust to showcase the talents of the riders who have graduated from the Work Riders’ Training Programme, one of Highveld horseracing’s BEE initiatives.
The programme is funded by the Thoroughbred Horseracing Trust and run by former champion jockey-turned-trainer James Maree. More than 250 people have passed the course.
Chamu Mabaya with James Maree.
Some of these professional work riders are in hot demand among trainers, both locally and abroad, and the programme has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the earning potential of its graduates.
Phumelela stages work riders’ races nearly every week and, apart from earning riding fees on every horse they partner, they compete for the jockeys’ portion of the prize money. The Work Riders’ Challenge itself carries a total purse of R50,000.
The three Work Riders’ Challenge meetings this season will be held at the Vaal (sand) on Thursday 23 October, the Vaal (turf) on Tuesday 3 February 2015 and Turffontein on Saturday 2 May 2015.
Riders score points for their finishing positions and the rider who scores the most points in each of the three legs gets R5,000. The rider who accumulates the most points over all three meetings gets R20,000 and a Highveld Feature Seasons Award, presented at a plush function in May. The runner-up is given R10,000 and the third rider gets R5,000.
We caught up with last year’s Work Riders’ Challenge winner Chamu Mabaya to find out what makes him tick.
Name: Chamu Mabaya
Date of birth: 13 June 1979
Where did you grow up: Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2001 I came to South Africa with trainer Paul Matchett. I’d started working for him in November 1997, aged 18.
Where do you live: Near Kyalami.
Are you married; children: To Dikeledi and we have a four-year-old son, Ledohang.
How did you get involved in racing: My father was a farrier – he worked for Mr Matchett – so I grew up around horses. I started working for him when I finished school. His top horses since I’ve been with him include Hide Out, who won 11 races in Zimbabwe, among them the Grand Challenge, and in South Africa, Golden Horse Sprint winner Let’s Rock ’N Roll.
Who do you work for now: I’m a freelance work rider at Randjesfontein, working for Mike de Kock, Alec Laird, Greg and Karen Anthony, Jurgen van Heerden and Mr Matchett.
Tell us about the Work Riders’ Programme: Going to James Maree’s school and getting my licence to ride work has changed my life completely. I never believed that I would be able to support a wife and child as well as my parents in Zimbabwe. We ride in races three or four times a month for riding fees and the stake if the horse runs into the money. The Work Riders’ Challenge shows just how far some of us have come, from being grooms who just climbed on horses in the morning and galloped them round a track. We are much better riders than before and can now give proper feedback to the trainers on the horses – some of who cost millions of rand. That means that the trainers do not have to rely on the jockeys to ride the horses in their final preparatory gallops. This leaves them free to concentrate on riding in races. And a few of the guys who attended Mr Maree’s school have also become professional jockeys.
Riding weight: It is officially 59.5kg but my lowest is 55kg, so it averages out at 57kg. I haven’t been doing anything special. I don’t change my food intake. But I ride an average of 20 horses a day, arriving at work at around 5am and finishing around 10am. Sunday is my day off, but I’ll still go to the training track for an hour or so to ride any horse who is having its final workout before a race. I also run about 3km three times a week. So I keep myself fit.
How many winners have you ridden in your career: 40. (Mabaya is currently sharing first place on the work riders’ log with Calvin Habib, Francis Semela and Dansile Wana, who have won two races each). We are all getting good support from our trainers and know if we battle it out we’ll end up on top. Calvin and Dansile are young men coming up in our ranks and they are going to give us older guys a torrid time!
Who was your first race ride: Mr Matchett’s runner Ultra Hall (Zim) over 1160m at Turffontein on 8 January 2005. I was nervous and excited at the same time. We finished 12th. I’ve loved riding and horses – even before I became a work rider. Even when I have to stop riding in 15 to 20 years’ time I want to continue working with horses, perhaps become a stable employee and assistant trainer.
Who was your first winner: I placed on three of my mounts before, in my 16th race ride, I won on Mr Matchett’s runner Arabian Gem over 1160m at Turffontein on 27 January 2008. We started 11-10 favourite. It was a dream come true. When I went to the races I had a feeling that was going to be my day. My confidence was growing – the more you ride, the more confidence you get and the better you get. It helps that Mr Maree talks us through the races before we ride and then goes through them, pointing out our mistakes and what we did right, afterwards. He’s always there for us.
Your biggest win to date: The 2013-14 Work Riders’ Challenge. I didn’t win on any of the three race days but still managed to beat the previous year’s Challenge winner, Francis Semela, by six points in the overall competition – just running places can win the challenge. It is a matter of consistency. I didn’t do anything different last year. I’ve been in the places in the Challenge from the very beginning – behind the late Abram Makhubo, then Sam Mosia and Francis Semela. I get a lot of support from Mr De Kock, Mr Matchett and a number of other trainers. I knew my time would come – and when it did I was on top of the world!
Who was the best horse you’ve ridden in work and/or on the track: I’ve been lucky to ride some of the best horses in the country since I became a professional work rider. Of the horses I’m riding in work at the moment, I rate Mike de Kock’s filly Majmu my best. I started riding her as a baby when she was still in pre-training with Diane de Kock. I’ve ridden her nearly every day and she’s lovely. She’s very humble, very quiet, and does exactly what I want. I love watching the horses I work winning. It’s my job and I get very proud.
Who do you admire most in racing: Among the trainers, I think Mr De Kock is very talented. Look at what he has done (at home and internationally) in a very short period of time. I admire a number of jockeys but top of the list would be the master, Piere Strydom. I am awed by his ability to judge pace and his riding skills. He’s not a jockey who goes for the crop much, but the horses run for him. He’s a great talent.
Any advice for youngsters who might like to become a work rider or those coming up the ranks: There are quite a few grooms who have natural talent. They should go to Mr Maree’s school and, once there, work hard and develop their skills. It’s a good feeling, winning a race. But you have to make good things happen in this life.
Hobbies: I play a bit of soccer. I’m a big Orlando Pirates and Manchester United fan. But mostly, once I’m finished work, I watch the races and soccer on TV. I also listen to a bit of music.