FIVE of the six legendary jockeys on this old photograph, doing its rounds on Facebook, won the Durban July at least once.
From the left are Garth Puller (Over The Air, Bush Telegraph), Felix Coetzee (Devon Air, Royal Chalice, Illustrador), Karl Neisius (Flaming Rock), Mark Sutherland (front, black jacket, Tecla Bluff, Right Prerogative) and Gerrit Schlechter (EyeofTheTiger). In the middle is Glen Hatt, a man of equal talents who didn’t crack the big one, but won most of SA’s other majors including three Gold Cups and two J&B Mets on Bunter Barlow and Futura, respectively.
Individually, all but Schlechter have retired from race riding. Garth Puller is a top professional trainer in his own right, based in KwaZulu-Natal. The energetic Felix Coetzee spends his time between South Africa (where he breaks in and works with problem horses and is mentor to Champion Jockey S’Manga Khumalo) and Hong Kong (where he has mentored apprentice jockeys including the sensational female jock Kei Chiong Ka-kei).
“King Karl” Neisius, retired recently, says he is enjoying life, playing some golf and has kept his interest in racing going with a few pinhooks, including a Dynasty offspring. He also has shares in two stallions.
Glen Hatt retired midway through 2015 following injury. He is happily spending time with his two young children and is taking things easy. (-Glen had just come back from walking the dogs when we phoned him on Wednesday morning). “At the moment I’m enjoying the time off, I haven’t really decided what to do next,” he said.
Sutherland, who famously rode two July winners for Terrance Millard when Felix rode the Millard favourites, retired in the mid 1990s and is reportedly doing well in the residential property market, in Cape Town.
Schlechter has been sidelined since September 2015 and has been in and out of doctor’s consulting rooms with an injured back. He has the original photo and recalls: “This dates from around 1988 and was taken at the old Milnerton Racecourse. The six guys on the pic were chosen to represent the Western Cape against a group of international jockeys that were touring South Africa.
“Greville Starkey, Walter Swinburn and Willie Carson were members of that team, jovial guys nearing the end of their careers and they came to Cape Town in jolly spirits. They explored the wine routes on the Thursday before races, rode on the Sarturday and then had a ‘booze cruise’ in the harbour on the Sunday. In those days you couldn’t buy alcohol on Sundays and I remember Felix Coetzee coming to my house to borrow a range of refreshments from my home pub!”