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JP van der Merwe with Gaynor Rupert after winning the Gr 1 Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas on the Justin Snaith-trained Drakenstein Stud homebred Lancaster Bomber colt Snow Pilot (Picture: Wayne Marks) 

The experienced jockey’s decision to move to Cape Town has paid dividends.

 

Mike Moon (The Citizen)
Who gives up the job as stable jockey to world-renowned Joburg trainer Mike de Kock to up sticks and move to Cape Town?
Juan Paul van der Merwe.
No, it isn’t an old Van joke.
If lightweight rider ‘JP’ needed convincing that recently uprooting his family and heading for the Fairest Cape had been the right thing to do, his victory in the Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas at Kenilworth racecourse on Saturday provided it.
After the race, he said: “I had first choice for Mr De Kock and things were going very well. It was not easy to say no to Joburg and move things and come here. But I thought, it’s a great opportunity and I might not get an opportunity like this again.”
Further confirmation came when top Cape Town trainer Justin Snaith commented on JP’s work in steering Snow Pilot to victory in the prestigious Grade 1 contest: “I thought he rode a magnificent race!”
To be fair, probably the only job any jockey would leave the Randjesfontein master for would be the all-powerful Snaith Racing and Drakenstein Stud team down south.
And proof that Van der Merwe might not have burnt bridges up north came the very next day. He flew back up to his erstwhile home and partnered unbeaten filly Gimme A Nother to a very impressive victory at Turffontein in the Grade 2 Mike de Kock Ipi Tombe Challenge – for the De Kock yard.
The trainer couldn’t be on course for the occasion, but owner/breeder Jessica Jell of Mauritzfontein proclaimed: “Thanks to JP who rode a great race; amazing!”
Sometimes a person can enjoy the best of all worlds.
Ups and downs
In his post-race interview, Van der Merwe said he counted his blessings but was aware that, in racing, “there are a lot of ups and a lot of downs”.
He’s only 33, but he knows all about both directions.
In 2016, after successfully graduating as one of South Africa’s most promising young riders, a chance ride on Alec Laird-trained Smart Call saw Van der Merwe win the Cape Town Met (incidentally, for Mauritzfontein) – a career highlight for any jock.
Then came a major down. During a stint riding in Singapore in 2021, he copped a shocking one-year ban after local stewards reckoned he hadn’t tried hard enough in a race. The penalty was reduced to six months on appeal but was surely a devastating moment in a young career.
If the maxim that hard work can help you leap most hurdles, JP has bounced back – and then some.