Craig Zackey could not have picked the brains of a better person in his search for a few tips around the tight Champ de Mars track – retired jockey Johnny Geroudis.
The 22-year-old rider from Johannesburg is bristling with excitement at the prospect of his first riding experience in a country many of his fellow South Africans have plied their trade in over the last few decades.
He is among the stellar 12-jockey line-up vying for riding honours in the Air Mauritius & Attitude International Jockeys’ Challenge 2017 this Saturday and Sunday.
But as many times as Zackey can press replay over past races on YouTube, he felt a more hands-on perspective would give him a better edge. And there is no better advice than that coming from a jockey who knows the 1,298-long racecourse like the back of his hand than Geroudis, the former 2012 Mauritius champion jockey.
“I had a word with Johnny Geroudis about the track,” said Zackey who arrived in Mauritius on Tuesday evening.
“He gave me a few tips about the tight turns, how to get them balanced on the right leg.
“He also told me how to position my horses and give them the best chance in the running. Johnny said it is hard to catch horses up if you don’t get out to a good start.”
Riding freelance but more often for Mike de Kock and Corne Spies, Zackey is also hoping to get a first-hand feel of those little practical points at a spin around the track on Friday.
While his resume may still not be a patch on South African leading lights like Jeff Lloyd (now naturalised Australia) and Robbie Fradd, whom he will both cross swords with this weekend, Zackey said such riders are a source of inspiration to his young riding career.
“Of course I’ve heard of both. They are top jockeys, and I even got the chance to ride against Jeff once when he returned to ride in the Vodacom Durban July in 2012,” said Zackey who does not hail from a racing family.
“He won the big race for two-year-olds (Golden Horseshoe) on War Horse on that same day. To see those two jockeys riding at the highest level at their age in Australia is very inspiring for someone like me who just started out.”
Zackey, who finished sixth on 138 winners in the 2016-2017 season, is being a touch modest as despite his relative inexperience, he has already shown a professionalism beyond his years.
Just two weeks ago, he was rewarded for his hard work by being selected in the South African team in the Air Mauritius International Jockeys’ Challenge at Turffontein on Novembe 19.
He did not win but he certainly was not too disappointed with his performance, which he hopes he can improve on this weekend.
“I finished a short-head second, but overall, I didn’t get good rides. That’s the way these jockeys’ series are, a lot depends on your luck at the draw,” said Zackey who has also taken part in the Asian Young Guns Challenge in Macau (third) and Korea (fifth) in the past.
“I was happy with my season as I rode a Grade 2 and Grade 3 winner. Nother Russian is the best filly I rode, she is phenomenal.”