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Kabelo Matsunyane’s smile says it all (Picture: Chase Liebenberg).   


Mainstream sports journalist Mark Etheridge interviewed Hollywoodbets Durban July-winning jockey Kabelo Matsunyane and wrote the interesting article below:

Mark Etheridge (Business Day)  

Betting on a horse is always about taking a chance and it was a chance school trip that came good as Kabelo Matsunyane rode the race of his life to win the Hollywoodbets Durban July last weekend.
Graduating out of the SA Jockey Academy ranks only two years ago, 24-year-old Matsunyane was nothing less than masterful in the saddle of Winchester Mansion.
But it could all have been so different. “The young Kabelo saw himself as a mechanical engineer when he was growing up in Sebokeng, Vaal,” he recalled this week.
“But then I went with my school to a careers expo in Sandton and Leonard Strong from the Jockey Academy immediately approached me with the idea of becoming a jockey. I found it so fascinating and my mom [Naomi] and dad [Thabo] were incredibly supportive.”
In no time at all a “super nervous” Matsunyane was part of the academy in Durban. “Being in the presence of these huge and majestic animals made me super-nervous, but in no time at all I was saddling and mounting horses myself.”
Like most jockeys, Matsunyane is no giant, especially compared to a racehorse which would weigh upwards of 400kg. “I’m quite tall for a jockey at 1.64m, but my comfortable weight is only 52kg so I have a very light body mass.”
Well prepped by mentor and former SA champion jockey Anton Marcus, he said awareness was key to Winchester Mansion’s win.
“Most important was getting out of the gates cleanly and then putting him in the best position and not following the ‘wrong’ horses.
“I started making my run from home around the 650m mark, but I knew the favourite See it Again would be coming from behind so I had to be super alert. I had to get the run on them but at the same time also have a bit in reserve for 150m to go.”
A thorough gentleman, Matsunyane was full of credit for both ride and mentor: “I thought I could still lose it but my horse was hearty and gutsy and fought for me and truly gave me his best.”
It was his first grade 1 victory and he says he couldn’t have asked for much better. “In big races like this nerves often get the better of you but Anton really helped prep me in the lead-up, urging me to be calm and to be at one with your horse.”
Right now he’s on a high but the lowdown on training reveals a demanding lifestyle. “I work at Randjesfontein five times a week, starting my string of horses at 6am and then make my rounds to other trainers to prep horses I’ll be riding in future. If I’m racing, I’ll skip training. It’s hard work and there’s not much time for a social life, but I know that the efforts I’m putting in now will help me go from strength to strength.”
He has no need for horseshoes to bring him any more good luck, but he does admit to a penchant for shoes. “I suppose you could call me a sneaker addict,” he grins. “Right now I’ve got 11 pairs and my favourite brand is definitely Nike … all my sneakers are either Nike or Jordan.”
And there’s nothing sneaky about learning your trade as a top jockey … it’s all about getting a good grounding.
“The most important part of building relationships with each horse early on comes from trackwork, understanding their temperament, their running style, their overall behaviour.
“But sometimes you race a horse you’ve never even mounted and in that case you have to use your instincts, skills and ability to build up trust in that short time between parade ring and starting gate.”
And trust is a thing that has always been key to Matsunyane throughout his young life, such as his relationship with man’s best friend — the dog.
“I love animals but especially horses and dogs. I don’t have a dog right now but growing up we had Rottweilers and German Shepherds. If I had to make a choice now I think I’d go for the latter, just because how intelligent and protective they are.”
And when it comes to something that perhaps people not privy to his inner circle of friends wouldn’t know — is that if you go to the Matsunyane household, don’t expect to get a dog’s breakfast!
“I absolutely love the kitchen and my favourite meal that I could never get tired of preparing is creamy prawn pasta.”
The king of pasta, first past the post in the country’s biggest race — sounds like a winning jackpot combination.
And when it comes to winning at the highest level it’s a combination between, not only horse and jockey but also jockey and trainer.
Explains Brett Crawford who runs his own yard in Futura Park, Western Cape and, since two years ago, oversees son James’ operation in the Johannesburg yard: “I very much get involved in a relationship with the jockey and watch the effort they put into the stable and if it’s up to scratch we reward that jockey with the choice of rides.
“In the July, Winchester Mansion had a light weight of 53kg which automatically took a lot of jockeys out of the picture but with Kabelo being a natural lightweight it worked in his favour. Also, he’s there every morning working the horse so it was a natural choice to let him ride.”
Crawford insists credit must go to Matsunyane for his winning ride. “Trainer and jockey can strategise as much as they want before the race but once the pens open it could be Plan A, B or even C — a lot of the success comes from the jockey using his own initiative.”
And credit goes to Crawford junior as well. “James came to me and said he had a young jockey who had a great future and has had Kabelo’s back ever since.

“Kabelo’s work ethic is top drawer — he’s always listening and learning. As I said, being a natural lightweight is a massive asset. If he works as hard as he’s currently doing he can certainly become one of SA’s greatest jockeys.”