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Hewitson hungry for more success on world stage
Michael Lee

South African boom apprentice jockey Lyle Hewitson never stops thanking his lucky stars.

Mostly for his four-year meteoric rise from work rider to national champion jockey while still an apprentice – a feat not achieved in South Africa since the legendary Michael Muis Roberts in 1973.

But as much as his whirlwind success has taken him on an amazing upward spiral only the rare few enjoy, the son of ex-jockey Carl Hewitson is not exempt from racing’s rollercoaster ride.

Lyle Hewitson captains Team South Africa on Tuesday (photo
courtesy of Gareth Pepper).

Just when the 20-year-old wunderkind had ticked another box so early in his fledgling riding career - the prospect of testing his mettle against some of the best jockeys in the world at his first overseas international jockeys challenge in Singapore on September 25, it could have been cruelly taken from him in a split second.

Last Sunday, Hewitson crashed heavily to the turf when his mount Gratuity fell in a race at Greyville. On TV, it looked horrendous, but the lucky boy only escaped with a sore knee.

Had he been more seriously hurt, he could have joined English jockey PJ McDonald on the casualty list of the inaugural Premier Gateway International (PGI) Jockeys Challenge. An original member on the Team UK draft, McDonald had to give up his seat to Ireland’s Fran Berry after he hurt his ankle and heel in a Newmarket race on September 3.

To Hewitson, it was also a déjà vu he could have done without. He had just recovered from a left knee chip injury incurred in a race fall at Port Elizabeth on July 20.

“It was very scary. I was just coming out of another injury, and I had another fall, but I have to say I was very fortunate,” said Hewitson, speaking from Durban where he was back riding in races since the fall.

“There was a lot of pain on the day of the fall, but luckily, it got better and better after a few days.

“In a way, I was also lucky I didn’t hurt my ‘good knee’ if I may call it that way! I’m good to go, but obviously, I’ll take it easy with only four rides at Durban today.

“It would have been disappointing if I had missed out on the Singapore jockeys’ series because of that fall.”

Hewitson has been all revved up since he was told he would be with Muzi Yeni and Aldo Domeyer – the podium finish in that order for last season’s South African jockeys’ premiership – the three to fly the flag for the Rainbow Nation at an event which is the brainchild of his home country, but is hosted by Singapore, a country he has never ridden in, let alone visited. Hewitson has been designated as the Team captain.

“I’ve had quite a few setbacks with injuries this season, but it was fantastic to win the champion jockey title and follow into the footsteps of an icon like Muis Roberts,” said Hewitson, who still has not come out of his time, but won’t claim at Kranji.

“It all came to me really quick. I’m really grateful for the opportunities given to me, and I’m also very proud of myself.

“But I’ve also always wanted to get onto the international stage. I didn’t think it would happen so early, but this is a great step to achieving that.

“To be honest, I can’t say I’m clued up about Singapore racing, even if I’ve watched some of their races. My dad rode in Malaysia but not in Singapore. I haven’t spoken to him yet about the series, but he will advise me as he always does.

“I’ve heard of Ricardo Le Grange and followed his success, even if I don’t know him personally, but I know Nooresh Juglall very well as he’s come back and ridden at the July meeting twice, and I also ride with his brother Kishan here.

“Obviously, it’ll be a bit of a disadvantage that all three South African jockeys have never ridden at Kranji before, but it’s compensated by the qualities all three of us have in other spheres.

“We finished in the top three for a reason, and we’re all young and hungry, and looking forward to such an experience for our careers. These are jockeys who are capable of adapting to any track.

“Last year, I was part of Team SA that took part in such a challenge at home. Unfortunately, SA lost, but I did win a race and was runner-up for the Silver Saddle, to PJ McDonald, who unfortunately, I won’t get another chance to ride against next week.

“I was also invited to an apprentice race in Dubai in October 2016. I didn’t get a ride in the end but did ride in another race for purebred Arab horses – and won!

“At the end of the day, you need to have good horses. If we can draw a combination of good horses, Team South Africa will be in with a shout.”

Hewitson, as well as Yeni and Domeyer, will actually get the chance of knowing the lie of the land two days earlier. Along with Australian champion jockey Hugh Bowman, they have been licensed to ride at the Raffles Cup meeting on Sunday.

Hewitson, who flies out to Singapore on Friday, has been booked for five rides, namely Bahana in the Group 1 Raffles Cup (1600m), Paddington and Acrobat for Stephen Gray, and Zac Kasa and Dicton for Cliff Brown.

Besides being an undisputed whiz kid in the saddle, Hewitson, who has also excelled at his studies while juggling them and his apprenticeship, certainly does his homework, too.

“I’ve watched replays of my rides already. I would say I have three competitive rides,” he said.

“Zac Kasa is the standout. He’s got 52kgs which is my riding weight, but I haven’t been able to get my weight in shape since Sunday.

“It should be okay as I’m racing in Johannesburg after Durban, and then I fly to Singapore on Friday. It’s all very exciting.”