Tributes flow for 'true pro' Coetzee

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 December, 2008, 12:00am

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges yesterday described departing jockey Felix Coetzee as 'the most professional jockey I've ever seen'.

Coetzee, the South African master horseman, will say goodbye to Hong Kong racing tomorrow after an 'experiment' that lasted 16 years, to be reunited with his family in Cape Town.

Engelbrecht-Bresges led the tributes to Coetzee, who will forever be remembered as the rider of Silent Witness, the 'Spirit of Hong Kong' who won a record 17 starts in a row.

'He is the most professional jockey I've ever worked with or seen,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'I fear they broke the mould when they made Felix Coetzee because, in the jockey world, he has taken professionalism to a different level.'

Coetzee came to Hong Kong in 1992, as a retained jockey to Brian Kan Ping-chee, a larger-than-life personality with firm views on just about everything.

'Felix seemed to handle these stressful situations better than anyone else,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'He was able to work with people who were known to be temperamental and emotional, and have a calming influence on them. But for all that outward calmness, he was a jockey who was extremely competitive.'

Coetzee (pictured) racked up his 643rd Hong Kong winner when Pocket Money won the opening race at the Cathay Pacific International Races last Sunday. The John Size-trained gelding was formerly a regular mount of champion jockey Douglas Whyte but became yet another Coetzee success story.

'Felix has the most respect I've ever had of a fellow rider, anywhere in the world,' Whyte said. 'He is the most professional and incredibly, for all the success he's achieved both here and in South Africa, he is still very humble and absolutely dedicated.

'I'm also proud to call him a close friend, and we have something that is very unique - we can be the closest of friends off the track, but once those gates open, we are deadly enemies. No other jockey has ever understood the way Felix does, and I doubt I'll ever have that same kind of relationship with any other jockey.

'Hong Kong isn't just losing a jockey, it's losing the live presence of an entire chapter in its racing history,' Whyte added.

Coetzee's most famous association came as the riding half of the 'C Team', with the trainer being former six-time champion jockey Tony Cruz.

'I won two championships with Felix as my retained jockey,' Cruz said. 'We won two Derbies, a Hong Kong Mile with Lucky Owners, and 17 straight wins with Silent Witness.

'While Felix was riding for me, we broke George Moore's record for the number of wins in a season, and the all-time single-season prize money record, too. Felix was always very dedicated and professional, never late for work a single morning, and I'd say a real model for the apprentices as the sort of jockey they should strive to become.

'It will be very hard to get a person to replace Felix Coetzee.'

Jockey Club executive director of racing Bill Nader has been in the job less than two years, but his admiration of Coetzee is almost as great as those who've known him much longer.

'Felix Coetzee has been a great asset to Hong Kong racing, as a world-class jockey and great ambassador for the sport,' he said. 'His enthusiasm for racing and his professional attitude is something that younger jockeys should note for their own career development.'

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The number of wins Felix Coetzee has racked up in Hong Kong: 643