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Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH
Picture: JEFF GRIFFITH/UNSPLASH

With two weeks left in the 2021/2022 season, the jockey who has made huge waves compared with previous year is unquestionably 28-year-old Keagan De Melo.  

While we must take our hats off to champion-elect Warren Kennedy (172 winners in 2020/2021 but boasting 255 successes this term), it is De Melo’s surge from ninth place with 113 winners last season to third with 183 victories for this campaign that is simply outstanding.

A double at Hollywoodbets Greyville on Monday will have the Alberton-born rider believing he can get close to the double-century mark before the curtain comes down on the season on July 31.

De Melo started his apprenticeship in 2009 and rode his first winner, Western Gem, at Scottsville in August 2010.

Through the years, the affable attitude of De Melo has gone down well with trainers, owners and racing fans, yet his 2020/2021 tally of 113 winners meant he finished some way behind his main rivals, Lyle Hewitson (264 winners), Kennedy (172), S’manga Khumalo (155) and Muzi Yeni (151).

De Melo is an Arsenal fan and, in a way, his success mirrors that of the London football club, which has seen better days since the appointment of manager Mikel Arteta.

It’s fair to say the jockey’s rise up the racing ladder is due to his partnership with Dean Kannemeyer, who has made many headlines since taking over from his talented father, Peter.

In an interview, De Melo makes mention of the trainers who have backed him in recent years. “I’d have to sum up my highlights as the support of stables such as Mr Dixon and Mr Drier, who have been loyal to me throughout my career, and being part of the Duncan Howells racing team when they won the KZN championship.

“And latterly being stable jockey to the well-respected Dean Kannemeyer racing team, I have been lucky to have these top trainers feature in my foundation success.”

In the past few days, De Melo has rewarded that support by booting home Mark Dixon’s filly, Vivid Jet, to victory at Hollywoodbets Scottsville and he scored on Lady Heist (Glen Kotzen) and Shantastic (Kannemeyer) at Greyville on Monday.

It’s amazing that Hollywood Syndicate picked up Shantastic for R240,000 as a yearling — she’s a daughter of Rafeef and half-sister to Waterberry Lane — so might have made a million if offered in the ring today.

Waterberry Lane did have his supporters for the Durban July, but this column felt the best he could hope for was a place. And so it proved, with the son of Soft Falling Rain finishing nearly 10 lengths behind Sparkling Water.

Nevertheless, De Melo didn’t return home empty-handed as he captured the grade 3 Gold Vase on Sean Tarry’s stayer, Black Thorn.

Another jockey who has enjoyed a big upturn compared to his winners tally in the 2020/2021 season is Richard Fourie. In that campaign, his final total was 134 — this term he’s up to 186.

Fourie’s decision to go freelance has paid dividends and — while still riding regularly for Justin Snaith — other top yards such as Mike de Kock, Vaughan Marshall and Glen Kotzen have been quick to secure his services, particularly for big races.

One jockey whose total of winners are down on last season is Greg Cheyne. He rode 142 winners in the 2020/2021 campaign, but his tally this term stands at 106.

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