Louis Nhlapo after a win in Kimberley. The horse is being led in by trainer Corrie Lensley and his partner Emmie Le Grange (Picture Supplied).
The talented and experienced Louis Nhlapo is excited to be back in the saddle and is looking forward to his first comeback ride after a layoff of close to eight years.
He has no concern about his age of 48 and said, “Race riding is all about experience. Being young does not help if you do not have the knowledge and experience. Look at Piere Strydom who is still riding big race winners at the age of 56. Horses are animals and you have to know what you are doing. This month I have been going to the gym morning and afternoon too. If I had just been sitting at home for the last few years my overall fitness and leg strength would have been a problem, but I haven’t because I play soccer. In fact in soccer here, do you know what they call me? … I am known as Louis The Sniper! The goalkeeper doesn’t know what is coming to him!”
Louis’ license was renewed on January 18.
He has not yet ridden only because he had a few other things to sort out first.
He has been workriding chiefly for the Corrie Lensley yard, but also for a couple of other trainers and is confident he will get rides.
Louis stopped riding in 2015 due to a personal tragedy.
He was in a car accident in which he lost his first and second born children.
He admitted to losing the will to live.
He said, “That was when the NHA came to the rescue. They offered me a job as a stipendiary steward. I am very grateful to them because it saved my life. I had to do a lot of reading and writing in the job. I didn’t have time to think and the healing fight began. It kept me going and I eventually pulled through … the job turned out to be a cure.”
However, when his life was back on track he began missing what he had been doing since the age of seven … riding.
Louis resigned after seven years of stipendiary stewarding.
Louis grew up on James Maree’s farm and from the age of seven was given one horse at a time to look after.
He used to go straight to the stables when school was over and his afternoon schedule included riding the horse.
He was officially a groom with James Maree for 15 years and for two years he was a farrier.
He started riding in workriders races at the age of 14.
He was accepted into the SA Jockey Academy in 2001, despite being in his mid-twenties.
However, he regards James Maree as the man who taught him how to ride and added, “Mr Maree was a very good teacher. He has the right temperament because he is never in a rush and takes time to teach you the right things the right way.”
He pointed at some of the riders Maree had taught, including Lyle Hewitson, and he added that not many are aware that Luke Ferraris started with James Mareee before joining the Academy.
Louis’ first winner as a professional rider was over 1700m at Gosforth Park on October 20, 2001, on the Tansie Leisher-trained seven-year-old Springing Leopard colt Hot To Spot, who jumped from draw 15 out of 16. He recalled him to be a 100/1 shot although with bookmakers his official starting price was 33/1.
He went on to have 49 wins as an apprentice and 238 as a licensed jockey.
The trainer who gave him the most support and whom he most admired was Ormond Ferraris.
He said, “The Old Man was a very fair trainer, he gave rides to those who did the work and was not concerned by owners who told him which riders to put on their horses.”
Louis thus rode such crack horses as Overarching and Snowdon.
He regards winning on Snowdon on debut as one of his best racing memories.
Snowdon went on to win nine races and finished second in the Grade 1 Golden Horse Casino Sprint and third in the Grade 1 Mercury Sprint in successive races in 2012.
Leon Erasmus was also a big supporter of his as were Corrie Lensley and Peter Miller in Kimberley, although he said he rode for most trainers.
Louis became known for his superb balance and his ability to ride effectively from off the pace.
He said, “I have never had an injury so am the same guy I was when I started … my balance has always been good.”
He said the man who most influenced his style was Piere Strydom.
He said, “Piere Strydom was my favourite jockey and still is today. To me he is the only brilliant jockey there has been, he knows exactly what he is doing and is a mastermind.”
Louis said coming back to the saddle recently was easy. He said when riding his first horse at track it felt as if he had never left the saddle.
He thinks he will come back to race-riding better than ever and pointed out one of the reasons, ironically, was due to the great learning curve he was subjected to as a stipe.
He said, “It is only when you have been a stipe you can see it from the other side. I have learnt so much doing that job and will now know when I am right and when I am wrong and I will also know my rights.”
He felt it would just be a matter of time before he was getting rides and in fact said he was already supposed to have had a winner on a horse he was booked to ride for in one of the recent cancelled meetings, whom he felt would have won.
He concluded, “I am looking forward to being given an opportunity to prove myself, you can’t prove yourself unless you’ve been tested, and I believe I will deliver. I am going to be coming back with a vengeance!”
He reserved a final word for the great racing man Laurence Wernars, who sponsors his soccer team. He said it was great to see the youngsters having something to do through this team and thus staying on straight lines during difficult times.