While it’s not unusual to see an apprentice given a ride in the Durban July the fact that Lyle Hewitson’s name appears among the jockeys assembled for the running of this year’s edition is a special achievement.
The 18-year-old has been engaged by the Justin Snaith stable and will swing a leg over Dynamic, one of four runners from the yard, but the thing that makes this jockey booking a noteworthy one is the fact that Hewitson has only been indentured since March.
Having competed in work-riders races while still in high school the Port Elizabeth-born rider was given a place at the South African Jockey Academy at the beginning of the year after matriculating from Kearsney College and he’s used the opportunity to full effect.
Fast forward three months and Hewitson finds himself on 54 winners and has already whittled his claim down to just 1.5kg. As an attempt to offset their inexperience, apprentice jockeys are given weight allowances in 4kg, 2.5kg and 1.5kg increments until they ride 60 winners or
“Only when the final declarations came out did it really hit me that I’m riding in the July,” Hewitson told Saturday Citizen this week as he gears up for the most important ride of his career to date.
“There’s obviously been a bit more media attention but I’ve tried to just keep doing things as I have been but I can’t really explain the feeling (of riding in the July) it’s all been so surreal. I could never have expected to do as well as I have,” he said.
The support has been coming for the young rider with a number of big stables realising his potential and it was a result of his win in the East Cape Derby for the Snaith yard that he was afforded the opportunity he has today.
“They saw my successes and monitored my progress before getting hold of me and offering me a few rides but I think the turning point was when I won the East Cape Derby for them last month and they’ve since given me lots of support,” said Hewitson.
The July itself is arguably the most prestigious race in South Africa and as a result it has something of a reputation for being a rough run race, even more so since the Greyville track was narrowed but Hewitson isn’t fazed.
“I’ve had advice from a lot of people and the senior jockeys have been great in that regard but I’m not too worried. In terms of tactics, I’ve got a game plan and I’ve been going over it in my mind.”
The fact that he’s also engaged in a number of rides on the day, nine in total and four before the big one, is also a positive
“I’ll be busy which is a big plus. I won’t be sitting in the jockey’s room and stewing over what might happen. It also gives me a chance to get a feel of things on the day,” he said.
While he may be sitting on the lesser fancied of four runners from the Snaith yard and the punters haven’t given the 35/1 shot much support. The first weekend of July in 2016 will live long in the memory of this young jockey.