New boy Cheyne to give HK best shot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 September, 2009, 12:00am

Learning to tough it out and last the distance was the very first lesson for Greg Cheyne as a teenager heading off to the South African apprentice academy that produced the likes of Douglas Whyte and Felix Coetzee - now he's back to those basics as he seeks to follow in their footsteps.

Cheyne, 33, still recalls the day he left home for the academy and the words his father told him.

'I was 14 years old. My father had been very involved in professional sports and he knew a lot about the mental part of it, which is just so important,' Cheyne said during a break in trackwork as he prepared for tomorrow and the first of what he hopes will be many Hong Kong race meetings ahead.

'He said: 'Promise you'll give it six months. No matter how hard it gets or how much you don't like it. Give it six months before you decide it's not for you.' '

And Cheyne admitted there were times in the first two months at the academy when that advice was all he had to hang on to.

'If I had come home after a week or a month or two months, I'm sure I wouldn't have gone back and I wouldn't be a jockey today, but by the time the six months was up I was starting to really enjoy what I was doing,' he said.

An experience that he might want to paste in his skull cap at Sha Tin, too, for there are no easy starts, even for the South Africans who have been such an overwhelming part of racing in Hong Kong.

Two months ago, Cheyne won the highlight race in his own country, the Durban July, but he has had advice from the best that it counts for little now.

'I don't want to set my expectations too high because it is very competitive. I've spoken to Basil Marcus, Felix Coetzee, Anthony Delpech and Kevin Shea, and they told me it's tough to start,' he said.

'Right now, I want to build relationships, use the fact that I'm a lightweight to my advantage and, if I can get a couple of winners early, then I'm sure I'll get my chances.

'Our jockeys have shone all over the world but, in South Africa, all jockeys think of Hong Kong as the pinnacle because our guys have had such great success here.

'I came through the same schooling system as Douglas and Felix - now I want to follow in their footsteps.'

This isn't the first time Hong Kong has been on the radar for Cheyne, but he well recalls the result of his first invitation to come on a retainer.

'After my apprenticeship, at 19, things were going very well. I got offered a job with Mike de Kock in Johannesburg and, at the same time, got an offer to come here,' he explained.

'Cleaning at home the other day, I found the fax from the Jockey Club, telling me that 19 was a bit younger than the norm,' Cheyne said, laughing.

'In the end, Robbie Fradd got it and the Jockey Club fax said they'd keep me in mind. It has taken a while, but now I know they weren't joking.'

Cheyne is aware that being physically eligible to ride bottom weights is a two-edged sword, but he is looking for the positive in it.

'Being a lightweight opens up a market - some people say the lightweights are the weaker rides at the bottom of divisions, but I like to think that it also opens up the improving horses going up a class too,' he said.

He left behind a promising sponsorship with a major South African farm that doubles in production of thoroughbred horses and high-class wines, and admits to being a fancier of the vine.

'I think connoisseur is much too long a word for how I enjoy a glass of wine socially,' he said.

'The deal with Avontuur Estate was fun while it lasted, but I have other things to think about now.'