Bonginkosi Nkosi: It is amazing how life works sometimes. A casual trip to a career expo in Sandton resulted in Kabelo Matsunyane being discovered by an individual from the South African Jockey Academy, who encouraged the now 20-year-old to consider becoming a professional jockey.
Fast forward a few years and not only has Matsunyane found his dream job in this sport, he has also travelled the world.
I caught up with the charismatic youngster fresh off his successful stint in France, where he competed in the Prix Longines Future Racing Stars for apprentice jockeys from around the world and held at Chantilly racecourse.
Matsunyane did the country proud, finishing fourth aboard the Christophe Plisson-trained Egeria, beaten no more than three lengths by Espione, ridden by French apprentice Thomas Trullier.
“I came back home in one piece,” said an upbeat Matsunyane.
“I didn’t get to work my horse, but it was a really great experience nonetheless and I did my very best. She (Egeria) had decent form but had just broken her maiden and was running against horses who had won a few races.”
The Prix Longines Future Racing Stars has been very kind to South African-bred riders, with our most recent winner being Mpumelelo Mjoka in 2017.
“I didn’t know the track or the horse so to get a clear understanding of how she likes to be ridden, I watched some of her race replays,” said Matsunyane. “After talking to her trainer, the initial plan was to get cover but I couldn’t. I was forced to sit third, two off the rail and she was unfortunately pulling hard.
“Had I got her to settle in running, I think we would have finished a lot closer than fourth place but from where we were she still managed to finish off great.”
Sadly, Matsunyane’s only other ride on the card was scratched.
The French experience didn’t end at Chantilly racecourse for the former Soweto schoolboy. He was given the opportunity to ride work for a trainer and the facility left him speechless.
“It is totally different from what we have at home. It is a must see, they work horses in the middle of a forest – it’s unbelievable. It is great doing track work there and the horses I worked had great temperaments.”
Matsunyane currently sits third on the national apprentice jockeys’ championship log and when asked what his future plans are he simply said: “Progress. I need to keep improving. (Trainer) Mr Tarry has been giving me giving me great rides of late, the plan is to win more races.”
Interestingly, Matsunyane revealed that jockey Piere Strydom is his source of inspirations – his idol. “His riding style is amazing. Just as a jockey, Strydom is the right guy to look up to,” he said.