The South African Jockey Academy is regarded as one of the best facilities of its nature in the world. A list of alumni from the institution makes for some impressive reading. Graduates from SAJA have won jockeys championships all over the world.
Michael “Muis” Roberts, an eleven-time national champion here in South Africa, defied all odds and went on to be UK Champion Flat Jockey in 1992. Our rich history and association with Hong Kong racing goes back to the late 80’s, when Bartie Leisher became Hong Kong’s Champion Jockey in the 1987/88 season. This was just the start of the South African Jockey Academy graduates’ total domination of the Hong Kong log. Basil Marcus started his impressive run in the 1991/92 season. He won three consecutive championships before conceding to Tony Cruz – who started his riding career in the UK – in 1994/95. The following year saw Marcus regain the championship, and this was the start of an 18 year dominance by SAJA trained jockeys. Robbie Fradd took the title in 1999/2000, and then Dougie “The Durban Demon” Whyte had a record-setting run of 13 consecutive championships!
Jeffrey Lloyd has now retired from the saddle, but after having won multiple South African and Mauritian Jockeys Championships, “The Gov” emigrated to Australia where he set the tracks alight. He won the Queensland Jockeys Premiership three years in a row, 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18, breaking the Queensland Metropolitan and State records in the 2016/17 season. That was the same season he won the Australian Metropolitan Jockeys Premiership.
SAJA graduates are highly respected in every racing jurisdiction and there are currently a number of South African-trained jockeys riding all over the world. While there has been much success internationally, there are South Africans whose achievements at home are just as impressive. In July 2018, former South African Champion Anton Marcus rode his 100th Gr1 winner. Smanga Khumalo has won the National Jockeys Championship twice in the last 5 seasons. In May 2015 multiple South African Champion Piere Strydom rode his 5000th winner. Lyle Hewitson won the National Jockeys Championship as an apprentice in the 2017/2018 season.
However, being a jockey is not for everyone. To enroll at the Academy one needs to go to one of the assessment days which take place around the country twice a year, in March and August, which applicants must attend. The exact dates for these assessment days for each major centre are published on the SAJA Facebook Page. There are certain biometrical requirements for applicants and they are checked on the assessment days. A potential candidate must be between the ages of 15 and 20. They must be between 150cm and 160cm tall and they must weigh between 38kg and 47kg. At these workshops the size, stature and fitness levels of each applicant are assessed. Applicants who meet the criteria are then invited to the Final Interviews in October after which a final selection for admission for the following year is made. Assessment and Open Days are held all around the country in March & August every year.
Applicants can only begin their Apprenticeship in the year that they turn 16, so may only apply when they are 15 and are in, or have completed, Grade 9. The Academy only offers Grades 10, 11 and 12 as well as a Post Matric Year. Apprentices may join in Grades 10 and 11 or as a Post Matric. The entire apprenticeship training course averages 5 years. Here is a breakdown of what can be expected in each year:
1st year Apprentices participate in theoretical and practical training programmes that includes 1 hour of fitness training, 4 hours of school, 3 hours of riding lessons and 3 hours of stables duties 5 days a week. The modules covered by our 1st year Apprentices include the following: Stable Safety (including personal protective equipment), demonstrating an understanding of Equine Welfare; Horse Care and Grooming, Restraining an Equine, organising and monitoring the Feeding and Watering of Equines, Recognising and Managing stable and un-mounted vices in Equines and Tacking up an Equine.
1st Year Apprentices are each given one of the Academy horses to look after and in this way not only learn the basics of horse care but also form a bond with horses. 1st Year Apprentices also complete the Equine Qualifications Authority of South Africa Module 1: Professional Groom Course which includes the following subjects: Blankets and Boots, Grooming 1, Yard Management 1, Equine Physiology and Behaviour 1 and Tack 1.
In terms of horse riding,most apprentices have never sat on a horse before and in their first year will progress through the basics through to riding horses at the training tracks. This is covered in the following three modules: Developing riding proficiency, Riding a horse in a jockey seat on a sand track, Exercising race horses at various paces on a sand track.
3rd – 5th Year
3rd to 5th Year Apprentices focus on their race riding with the goal of riding out their claiming allowance and achieving the 60 Winner Mark.
All Apprentices are given a claiming allowance to assist them to compete with qualified and experienced jockeys in a race, similar to the handicap system of golf that allows players of different skill levels to compete against each other. An apprentice starts off claiming 4kg, which is deducted from the weight that a horse has to carry in a race. Once an Apprentice has won 20 races, that drops to a claiming allowance of 2,5kg. Once an Apprentice has ridden 40 winners, that drops to a claiming allowance of 1,5kg and once an Apprentice has ridden 60 winners, they lose their claiming allowance and race at level weights with qualified jockeys.
An Apprentice who has ridden 60 winners is also awarded with the coveted White Blazer that distinguishes them from the other Apprentices who wear Navy Blue Blazers.
3rd to 5th Year Apprentices work closely with their Jockey Coaches conducting video analysis and racing simulator training to try and perfect their jockey seat and race riding technique.
Upon completion of their 5 year Apprenticeship and having ridden their 60 winners, a 5th Year Apprentice has qualified for and is awarded a Professional Jockey License by the National Horse Racing Authority.
The South African Jockey Academy is situated at Shongweni, in KZN, next to the world-class Summerveld Training Centre. Their academic facilities include: Modern classrooms, a science laboratory, a library, a fully equipped computer room and audio-visual facilities. The riding facilities and stable yards include: tack and feed rooms, well-maintained paddocks, an indoor riding arena, a 400m riding track and various other riding arenas. The Academy also has modern training devices such as an Equicizer as well as other digital equipment e.g. a big screen television, digital cameras etc. for regular riding assessment and review.
The boarding facilities are split into boys and girls dormitories – the boys’ quarters are attached to the hostel master’s house and the girls’ quarters to the housemother’s house. The kitchen is supervised by suitably qualified kitchen staff who work in conjunction with a dietitian. Laundry facilities are maintained by a competent laundry team. The Academy also employs a full time qualified nursing sister, who lives on the property and is easily available to sick pupils during all hours of the day and night. There is also a well-equipped gymnasium, trampoline, swimming pool, squash court and a multi-purpose sports court for playing soccer, tennis, basketball and volleyball. View the full article with pics here