HEARD about the horse who walked into a bar? Well, here’s a story about a teenager who walked into a butchery. His name was Jason Gates, and his career started in 2014 when John The Butcher, from the West Rand, noted out of the blue that a youngster standing in front of him looked like he’d make a good jockey.
Gates (20), who rode two winners at Greyville yesterday, is in his fifth and final year as an apprentice at the SA Jockeys Academy. He is a lad whom a number of experts believe will be one of the most promising young riders to come out of the Summerveld Academy in recent years.
“I didn’t know a single thing about horseracing when John, the butcher from Goldman Street in Florida, saw me in his shop one day, dressed in my school uniform,” Gates told.
“John is not a punter, his interest was not about betting. I was just a small kid who happened to walk into his business. I was quite fit, maybe I looked a sporty type, so I struck him as someone who should be a jockey.
“My parents also had no knowledge and in fact no interest in racing but they helped me to apply and here we are, six years later. John has supported me ever since, I still hear from him often, but he has never asked me about what I’m riding or what to have a bet on.”
He weighs only 49kg and has 64 winners to his credit, including a feature success for Glen Kotzen, who told Turf Talk: “Jason is a good young rider with a bright future. He’s a good judge of pace and he is fearless, not scared of the senior jockeys.”
Louis Goosen opined: “He’s a talented rider, a young man who can make it if he harnesses his abilities.”
Kotzen agreed, saying, “Jason needs to calm down. I told him once that he should aim at the top, go for the best rides and not the bad ones. He took that to heart, he tries hard, but he should relax a bit and focus. He’ll do well with some guidance.”
Gates said: “I’m young still, I know I have things to work on. Maybe I talk too much, I am always so keen to know new things so I ask a lot of questions. I am trying to improve myself. I’m like a two-year-old colt that is still learning. Hawwaam also had problem, he had to learn!”
Gates said that he had asked for advice and has been getting that from world-class Richard Fourie. “I’ve always admired Richard, he’s an amazing person and a wonderful rider. I started doing his kit some time ago and we built up a friendship for which I am thankful. He has helped me in his professional capacity as a jockey, and in a personal capacity on my conduct and my goals.”
At the Academy, Gates is under the watchful eye of riding masters Laurence O’Donoghue and Martin Ball, and has a riding sponsor in Joao Da Mata’s business concern, Puncture Safe.
The recently ordained Da Mata tells us: “Jason looks up to Richard Fourie and that is a good thing. I’ve also made him watch the Bartie Leisher video so he can model his life around Bartie’s, always riding every horse to win.
“I have certain conditions for being his sponsor and if he keeps to them, slowly but surely he will be less ‘cheeky’. We speak once or twice a week and he is much better than he was. Jason has a fire burning inside of him and we need to channel it into riding winners.”
We’ll be watching young Gates with interest. It sounds, and certainly looks like he has the mettle to become a top rider. Let’s see if he can mature from a real handful as a colt into a mature and brilliant racer like Hawwaam. It really is up to him in the end. The support is there.