Murray not in a hurry

Murray not in a hurry


Ken Nicol: At the tender age of 21 Callan Murray has a great chance of pulling off the rare feat of a Triple Tiara, in the company of the charismatic filly Takingthepeace, when the SA Oaks is run on 5 May.

The young man’s racing career has been brief but glory-filled so far, and he talked about it after working the Mike de Kock string one morning this week.

Born on 24 August 1996, Callan was raised in Kensington, Johannesburg, where he still lives. He attended Reddam House in Grade 8 and 9 before fate intervened.

As is the case with a few other top riders not born into a racing family, his path into the racing game happened partly by chance.

“I was doing motocross competitively, and knew nothing about racing, or much about horses in general. But my father Rory was friendly with Dave Durant through their bowling club. He was chief Stipe in Joburg at the time, and said I should give being a jockey a try. Things sort of snowballed from there.”

He enrolled in the Durban Jockeys Academy in 2013 at 16, and made a promising professional debut on 3 November the same year, a fighting third on the veteran Two Tone Rocka for Wendy Whitehead. A first victory followed at the third attempt a week later when his early backer in KZN Charles Laird’s Tennessee Strategy scored by 0.75 lengths in a Progress Plate.

He had scored an impressive 168 wins by the time his apprenticeship was up, and after returning to Joburg he enjoyed support from Alec Laird, Mike Azzie and Geoff Woodruff.

He was also gradually getting more opportunities from the powerful De Kock outfit. He made the most of these, and more came his way, particularly after Mike and Mathew both went to Dubai, and John Buckler came up to manage things.

So a year ago things were progressing well, and a first Grade 1 victory was scored on Heavenly Blue for De Kock in the SA Classic on April Fools day.

On 6 May 2017 his career was kicked into the stratosphere though when he scored another three wins at the highest level. Brilliant juvenile Mustaaqueem won the SA Nursery very easily, and later his full brother Rafeef took the Computaform Sprint, both for De Kock.

Woodruff’s Deo Juvente then put the cherry on the top with a shock 25-1 win over Legal Eagle in the R4-million Premiers’ Champions Challenge.

As Callan recalls: “It was just one of those days when everything went perfectly.”

Things then moved swiftly, as on the Monday the Hong Kong Jockey Club invited him to come and ride there, and by Wednesday he was on his way over for a couple of months.

“Things went well there, and they looked after me. They gave me an agent, and Tony Millard supported me a lot. But I travelled by myself, and it was quite lonely at times”.

When he returned to SA, things didn’t go quite as well as expected for a while. In a way it was a good thing, as he learnt not to get ahead of himself, and assume it was all going to be plain sailing

Then Takingthepeace came along.

“I was with Mathew (De Kock) when they bought her, and she always gave me a good feeling. I really didn’t expect her to win the Guineas, but she has really blossomed, and after the Classic last Saturday she has to have an excellent chance of completing the Triple Tiara,” he said,

He is equally positive about her owners, saying that “Murray Makepeace and Michael Shea are a real breath of fresh air. They are young and super passionate about the game, and it’s brilliant to see how much it means to them to have this great filly”.

Regarding the future, Callan says he would return to Hong Kong “like a shot” if invited. His other professional ambitions include racing at the highest level worldwide and winning international Group 1 races.

He would also like to win at least one SA championship before embarking on an international campaign.

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