TUESDAY, 7 June, was never going to be an ordinary day for multiple Champion Jockey Piere Strydom. He woke up having turned 50 years of age and with duties to be done at the Vaal Classic Turf Course it was on to business without much celebration. Or so he thought.
Piere had a handful of rides and was cheered home by a small crowd when he booted Ronnie Rocket home in Race 7 for trainer John Vos. A little while later he was ready to go home and waiting to catch a ride back with fellow-iockey Andrew Fortune when the games began.
Trainer Louis Goosen, Piere’s long-time friend and confidant, tells: “Piere’s wife Claudia made just enough fuss on Tuesday morning to remind him that he had reached the half-century, but she’d hatched an elaborate plan that included Fortune, his family, friends and few colleagues.
“Claudia got Andrew to pick Piere up for the drive to the Vaal so he could relax a bit on this special day, and arranged for a helicopter to fetch him for the return trip. Piere had no idea what was in store for him. He was keen to get home after races but Andrew, in a fashion one can only imagine, gave him the run-around, saying that his own wife had inadvertently left with his car and that they were stuck at the country course with no transport.
“Andrew convinced an irritated Piere that he would make an arrangement and took him on a walkabout which ended at the waiting helicopter! There were more jokes going round and Andrew pretended that the helicopter had come for him. He pleaded with the pilot, who had all sorts of bogus excuses, to allow Piere to make the flight.
“In the end, our windswept 50-year-old came by, realised what was going on and the pilot flew the pair to Rand Airport and then made a short trip to Gigi’s Harbour Fish & Grill in Meyersdal near Alberton.”
The biggest surprise was to come. Piere was welcomed at the restaurant by his entire family – mom, dad, sisters and brother, most of whom had flown in from Port Elizabeth to join him for dinner. Trainers Lucky Houdalakis, Clinton Binda and Chris Erasmus were also in attendance, as well as friends Hennie de Beer and Rob Zackey.
Louis says: “Piere was quite emotional as this was a rare occasion for him to party with his close family and friends and he was pleasantly caught unawares, having not even known he was going to dinner. It was a great evening, thanks to the snappy Claudia who had everything down to a T. Here’s to Striker’s next fifty years!”