PROFILE: Hard-working Muzi does not underestimate his opposition

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PROFILE: Hard-working Muzi does not underestimate his opposition

<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB"><strong><em>ASCENDING STAR: He looks like a 13-year-old, but there is nothing immature about Muzi Yeni&rsquo;s determination to succeed and 10 months after he qualified, the young rider needs just two more winners to equal his 2006 total.</em></strong><br />
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TO the uninitiated, 29 winners might not seem to indicate a star on the ascension, but Muzi is the 33rd most successful jockey in South Africa in terms of winners so far this year. His tally is also fairly impressive if one considers that most of his mounts have been second-string or just not expected to win (he has only ridden 56 favourites in his entire career) – and he has put the work into nearly every one of them.<br />
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Photo: Muzi Yeni</span></span></p>

<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“It is not as easy being independent because I have to have self discipline,&rsquo;&rsquo; says the 20-year-old hoop who has been taking mounts wherever he can find them and has ridden winners on the Highveld, in Port Elizabeth and Kimberley already this season. “At the academy it was all part of the routine to get up in the mornings to ride work then go racing. As a freelance rider, I have to stick to my routine or I just won&rsquo;t get the mounts.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Long hours are nothing new to Muzi, the Durban-born son of a long-distance truck driver, and he is generally up long before dawn. Every Tuesday and Saturday morning he drives his Mazda3 Sport Dynamic (his first major purchase after he lost his indentures back in January) to Randjesfontein to help work Mike de Kock, Sean Tarry and Penny Kimberley&rsquo;s strings; on Wednesday he picks up work rides at Turffontein; Thursday is spent at Dominic Zaki&rsquo;s private establishment and on Friday he pops in at the Vaal where he often gets a leg up on horses trained by Andre Kirsten, Geoff Woodruff and Wallace Tolmay. Then, if he has mounts, he goes racing – sometimes to fulfil only one or two engagements.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I try to spread my work around because it&rsquo;s tough getting the rides as a freelancer,&rsquo;&rsquo; he says. “I&rsquo;m not frightened of hard work and one of these days it&rsquo;ll pay off.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Muzi&rsquo;s most recent success came at Flamingo Park on Monday when he booted trainer Coerie Lensley&rsquo;s 14-1 chance Horatio&rsquo;s Bridge to a nine-length win in a 1400m race. He also notched two thirds on an afternoon when the average starting price of his eight rides was 30-1.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Trebles at two meetings during his short career prove that when Muzi is given the opportunities, he has the ability to capitalise. The first came on what he reckons was his best raceday yet. At Greyville on 16 June 2004, he scored on Royal Dome (22-10) and Copa de Plata (6-1) for De Kock and Faire La Fete (25-1) for Selwyn Moodley. Muzi also took turns in the No 1 box aboard Boscabelle, Horatio&rsquo;s Bridge and Dancing Alliance at Kimberley on 5 March this year.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">His most successful weekend was when the senior jockeys were in Durban for this year&rsquo;s Vodacom Durban July – he rode five winners in three days. On Saturday 7 July, he rode in just one race and his mount, Steeling Beauty, pipped Song of Joy over 1600m on the inside track at Turffontein. The following day, Muzi rode two winners from five mounts – Goodnight Trail and Dollarmation – and at Kimberley the day after that he followed up with another double aboard Danzig&rsquo;s Party and Mr Rawling.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Muzi says he has developed his own style of riding, combining the techniques of his role models, Piere Strydom and Weichong Marwing. “Of course, I&rsquo;m at a disadvantage because I&rsquo;m not riding horses as good. Hopefully, if I continue to work hard and get better at what I do, the quality of my mounts will improve.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">When asked what he believes his best qualities as a jockey are, he responds: “I think I read races well and keep my mounts balanced. And I don&rsquo;t underestimate my opposition!</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I also have a good understanding of the horses I ride and make allowances for their quirks. Within reason, I allow them to do what they want to do in races and most of the time it pays off.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">He must be one of the fittest jockeys around. Apart from all the work he rides most mornings, he also goes to gym at least twice a week and plays action and field soccer. “They clear my brain as well as helping me keep fit,&rsquo;&rsquo; he comments.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Muzi attended the Jockey Academy at Summerveld on Theta (Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Education and Training Authority) bursaries and has not once wondered whether he made a mistake, even though he had only just turned 15 when he started.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“It was Dad&rsquo;s idea for me to become a jockey. He encouraged me, saying that if I didn&rsquo;t enjoy it I could always drop out. Once I got there, I loved it.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I was so excited when I first rode a horse. I hadn&rsquo;t ridden before, but it was a nice, quiet learning horse and wasn&rsquo;t scary at all,&rsquo;&rsquo; says Muzi.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">It took 18 months for Muzi to qualify to ride in races and his first mount was a bay gelding called Mudslide Slim, who was making his debut for the De Kock stable at Scottsville on 9 September 2003. They finished fifth.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Two months and 13 rides later, Muzi tasted success for the first time. He booted Storm King to an easy win over Billy the Colt in a 2500m race at Clairwood on 16 November 2003.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">He could probably have racked up his first victory two mounts earlier when his inexperience told and he was beaten a short head aboard a De Kock runner called Mr Bones. After the race he was reprimanded by stipendiary stewards for not keeping his mount on a straight course at the 200m mark and his runner brushed up against winner Rafferty twice in the closing stages.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">In spite of that ride, Muzi was attached to De Kock&rsquo;s KwaZulu-Natal assistant Nathan Kotzen in Durban until last year when he was transferred to the trainer&rsquo;s main string at Randjesfontein.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">De Kock believes Muzi “has got a big future. He tries his heart out&rsquo;&rsquo;.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“When he attached himself to my stable, I found him a sincere young man with a burning desire to succeed. And he&rsquo;s got ability,&rsquo;&rsquo; the trainer commented.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Muzi, who has ridden 107 winners in his career so far, considers his victory aboard Dream Idol in the Grade 3 Racing Association Handicap on Summer Cup day in 2005 as his best ride. “I went to the front and judged the pace correctly. The other horses came up to me and I didn&rsquo;t panic. I just allowed Dream Idol to change legs and find his feet and we beat the stable companion, Cycad, who was favourite.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Muzi, who weighs in at an easy 49kg, has also won two other feature races – the East Coast Handicap aboard Toga in June 2005 and the Banyana Handicap on Clifton Miss in August 2006.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">Apart from Dream Idol, Toga and Clifton Miss, he ranks Angelina, Rememberance and Dollarmation as the best horses he has ridden in races so far and adds Equal Image, who he never race-rode to the list.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">He ranks the worst disaster of his career as his ride on Elands Baai in an Apprentice Plate on Summer Cup day, 2004.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I panicked,&rsquo;&rsquo; he said. “I&rsquo;d been told to place my horse in fourth or fifth, but Elands Baai didn&rsquo;t have the pace to keep up. So when we came into the straight, I was too far back. I started riding him furiously. I used the whip too early and started making headway too quickly. My horse then hung and lost ground. If I&rsquo;d just left him alone, we would have got there. As it was, I was beaten 0.75 lengths by Zambomba – and Mr de Kock expected us to win that day.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“He was very understanding, given the circumstances, and I try not to make such elementary mistakes nowadays.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">However, there are plenty more mistakes for Muzi to make and he admits that he&rsquo;ll never stop trying to improve his race-riding and work-riding skills. After all, his ambition in the next few years is to ride better horses and become financially comfortable.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“Of course, I&rsquo;d go and ride overseas if the opportunity presented itself, but I love South Africa and I&rsquo;m not in any hurry to spread my wings.</span></p>
<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt"><span lang="EN-GB">“I&rsquo;d also like to open a small business to supplement my income. I&rsquo;m still working on that one, though.&rsquo;&rsquo;</span></p>

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