Only three riders are in with a chance of winning this season’s jockeys championship, says Gauteng bookmaker Lance Michael. They are Lyle Hewitson, Gavin Lerena and new reigning champion Warren Kennedy.  

“It’s going to be a tight affair. I have all three priced up as the 2-1 co-favourites,” said Michael.

Kennedy won his first jockey’s title in the just-completed 2019/2020 season, finishing 62 winners ahead of his nearest rival Greg Cheyne. The 38-year-old won three grade 1 races over the 12-month campaign with his mounts earning R19.2m in stake money.

Commenting on big races, Kennedy said: “Getting rides in bigger races gives you more responsibility and if you ride well you get more support.”

Riding well is exactly what Kennedy did from the start of the season, but he would have been the pick of few pundits to beat the likes of Hewitson, Muzi Yeni and Greg Cheyne.

His career record had him as a journeyman jockey, a good one but on the fringes of the top five in the country.

This has been his record over the past five seasons:

2015/2016: 67 winners and 17th place in national log.

2016/2017: 84 winners and 17th place in national log.

2017/2018: 79 winners and 14th place in national log.

2018/2019: 139 winners and seventh place in national log.

It was the 2018/2019 campaign that signalled the tide was turning for the KwaZulu-Natal rider. It is perhaps surprising that Michael does not have him as clear favourite ahead of Hewitson and Lerena, particularly the latter.

However, Michael argues that Lerena can be a force this term.

“Now that he’s injury-free, I rate him the threat to Hewitson in Gauteng.

“Yes, Hewitson has the strong [Sean] Tarry stable behind him. But due to injury, Lerena rode in 700 fewer races last season. He has a good rapport with many Gauteng stables, and gets a lot of plum rides,” said Michael.

Hewitson won the 2018/2019 championship with 219 winners, but due to stints in Hong Kong and Japan, he was never in the running last season.

Richard Fourie, Yeni and Cheyne are all quoted at 14-1 for the title and — if you fancy either S’manga Khumalo or Anton Marcus — the prices are 25-1 and 33-1 respectively.

In the race for the trainers title, Michael quotes Sean Tarry and Justin Snaith as the co-favourites at 15-10 with Paul Peter at 3-1 and Mike de Kock at 4-1.

Tarry secured another title last season, finishing over R3m clear in stakes of his nearest rival Snaith. His stable earned R17m less than in 2018/2019, mainly because of the suspension of racing due to Covid-19.

If Kennedy was the surprise package in the jockeys’ department, it was Peter who has cemented his place in the premier league of trainers.

In the 2018/2019 campaign, Peter finished in sixth place in the national log with stake earnings of R11.6m. That he managed to move up to fifth place last season with a total of R10.9m was some achievement, given the disruption due to coronavirus.

Snaith, who won the recent Vodacom Durban July with Belgarion, continues to be Tarry’s number one rival. Bloodstock agents will have secured him some more choice thoroughbreds at last week’s National Yearling Sale.

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