Alec Forbes: Star of the Week

37 year old professional jockey ALEC FORBES may best be described as one of the ‘quiet men’ of the jockey fraternity. Alec goes about his business with minimum fuss but often produces the goods and is having his best season ever and currently lies in 4th position on the KZN Jockey’s Log. He has booted home about 700 winners during his career and his name has become synonymous for his association with champion sprinters like Shoe Shac, Val De Ra and most recently, Via Africa, the latter unfortunately being a late withdrawal in this weekend’s Grade 1 Mercury Sprint. However, Alec has also partnered some decent stayers over the years, including the top stayer Highland Night, whom he won the 2002 Gold Cup on. With the marathon event just around the corner, Alec gives us his insight on what it takes to win this race and WINNING FORM will have a concentrated build up to Super Saturday over the next few weeks.




What is your name?
Alexander Roy Forbes.

What is your star sign and birthdate?
Aries. Born 31 March 1976.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Johannesburg but spent most of my formative years in Richards Bay.

Where do you live? I currently live in Durban.

Tell us about your family?
I am married to Lezeanne Forbes.  My children, Jordan and Savannah, have emigrated with their Mom to Greece.  We chat regularly on Skype and my kids seem genuinely happy there. They’ve been there for 18 months and are both completely fluent in Greek. So much so that Jordan scored a 90% aggregate for their school year which ended just a few weeks ago.  My mom and my sister live in Johannesburg and my dad lives in Pinetown.

Do you have a ‘nickname?’
Some people call me Al.

Favourite food?
A rare steak.

Favourite drink?
I’m constantly watching my weight so Coke Zero it is.

Favourite music?
Nickelback, Live, Kings Of Leon and Faithless.

Favourite sport?
Horseracing, but I also watch a bit of cricket and I really enjoy watching athletics and swimming.

Favourite soccer team?
Manchester United.

Favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere where there’s a beach and I often go to the Drakensberg. KZN is a great province for holidays.  It has it all – I can drive half an hour one way and be at the beach and an hour in the opposite direction and be in the Drakensberg.

Favourite authors?
I like Stephen King, Peter F Hamilton, Lain M Banks and Esther and Jerry Hicks.  I also read as many periodicals as possible.

Mention some of your hobbies?
I love all sorts of DIY.  I enjoy making things with my hands.  At one point I was making all my own kit. Reading is a passion for me and I like going to the movies.  I’ve also recently taken up Ballroom and Latin American dancing.

Which characteristic about yourself do you like the most?
My tenacity.

Is there anything the public don’t know about Alec Forbes that they would be interested to know?
The first year I applied to the Jockey Academy I was turned down because I was “too small.” In hindsight they were right – I weighed only 26kgs at the time.  I would never have been able to control a thoroughbred.

Where did you go to school and what qualification did you achieve?
I went to primary school in Richards Bay, then two years at Springs Boys High and into the Jockey Academy for my last three years.  I then also did a few short courses post Matric.

Who was the main person that influenced you to become a jockey?
When I was a child, and whenever I would meet new people and they realized how small I was for my age, the invariable response would be, “You should become a jockey.”  At some point I took on the idea as my own and I asked my parents to apply for me.

In which year did you begin your apprenticeship, where were you based and who were your fellow apprentices at the academy?
I started my apprenticeship in 1991.  At that stage all apprentices were based at the academy at Summerveld until such time as we passed Matric.  Only then were we transferred to other centres. The only ones still riding from my year are Paul Devlin and Greg Cheyne.

Which senior people in racing had a major influence on you early on in your career?
I spent a year as James Maree’s apprentice which was very informative and then my last year was spent as Mike de Kock’s apprentice where I was fortunate to ride some very good horses.

You have enjoyed a successful career in horseracing. Tell us about it. Can you remember your first winner?
My first winner was my 8th ride on a horse for Snowy Reid called Don’t Blame Me.

Total winners to date?
About 700.

Total Grade 1 winners?
7.

Total of other Graded winners?
25.

Best finishing position on the KZN jockey’s log?
So far this is my best season as I currently hold 4th position.

Have you ridden in any July’s and is it one of your ambitions?
I have ridden in the July.  I think everyone wants to win the July. It’s the Holy Grail of racing in South Africa.

Have you won any July’s, Met’s and Summer Cups?
Not yet but they are on my bucket list.

Which is your favourite Grade 1 race to ride in?
It’s great to ride in any Grade 1 – everything is just that much more intense. Having said that, going the minimum trip is very exciting as you are getting to ride the fastest horses around.

Which Grade 1 races in South Africa have you won?
The Gold Cup on Highland Night, the Gold Medallion twice on Zeeno, then Link Man.  Both the Cape Flying Championship and the Computaform Sprint on Val De Ra. The SA Fillies Classic on Bambina Stripes and most recently, the SA Fillies Sprint on Via Africa.

Best racehorse you have seen in your life, either in the flesh or on the television?
I’ll stick to South African racing and say Horse Chestnut.

Alec on Bambina Stripes
Best friend you have made within horseracing?
That would be Stuart Randolph and Mark Khan.

Best advice you have received about this wonderful sport, from whom did it come and more importantly, what was it?
Mark Khan. We became good friends over the years and he gave me many tips on tactics and better race riding.

Favourite South African racecourse?
That would be Kenilworth.

It is probably fair to say that two of the best horses you have been involved with in your career have been the fillies Val De Ra and Via Africa. They had different trainers and how did your involvement come about?
Sean Cormack left Dennis Drier to ride in Singapore and I became Dennis’ stable jockey and inherited the ride on Val De Ra that way.  When I left Dennis I went to work for Duncan Howells and Via Africa had just started winning.

You were the jockey who rode both of them the most. You must consider yourself very lucky, or fortunate, to have been the jockey to get the majority of rides on these classy fillies?
I was extremely lucky to have Val De Ra fall into my lap and then to get to ride another champion filly, so soon after her,  was like winning the lotto.

Val De Ra was suspended after her second outing due to a nosebleed but trainer Dennis Drier won another 9 races with her before she bled again and was retired. Do you consider this a great training feat on Dennis’ part to have held her together for such a long time?
What Dennis did with her was phenomenal.  On top of her being a bleeder she also got very sick in 2010 and was off for 10 months. Her first run back was in a feature which she duly won.  He trained her very differently to his other horses and it was a great eye opener to me.  I felt very privileged to be a part of that.

What will you most remember of your association with Val De Ra?
Winning the Computaform Sprint.  It was her second run after a very long layoff and she absolutely trounced her opposition on a very soft track in a very fast time.


Have you been to the stud farm to see her since her retirement?
She is currently in foal to Oasis Dream in the UK.  Pippa Mickleburgh has been most gracious to send me pictures of her from time to time.

When she foals down in the near future would you advise any of your owner friends to consider buying her progeny?
Absolutely!

Alec Forbes on Val De Ra

Through Val De Ra, and others, you had a successful association with Dennis Drier. Apart from Val De Ra would you consider Beach Beauty to be the best horse you have ridden for him?
Yes, she is probably the best but there were many other good ones like Link Man, Star Empire and Clearly Silver.

You have won 5 races on her but she is now being ridden by Cormack. In contrast to Via Africa and Val De Ra she is at her best over the middle distances. In your opinion what would you say is her optimum trip?
Possibly a mile. However, she has won up to 2000m in very soft going and she was a brilliant 3rd in the J&B Met.

Via Africa is only just turning 4 and seems to be improving with age. In your opinion what do you think will be her optimum trip and is there any chance she could win over further than 1200m?
Many of her critics said she wouldn’t even get a 1200 and we all know how that turned out. I believe that she would be able to go 1400.

With her tremendous ability there must be thoughts of taking her overseas. In your opinion do you feel she has the ability to race overseas?
Absolutely. She would hold her own anywhere in the world.

Via Africa has great speed. What other attributes does she have which make her so special?
She is an absolute lady.  She conducts herself with poise and aplomb.  She never even breaks out into a sweat.

On a different note: With the Gold Cup just around the corner, have you secured yourself a ride in the marathon event?
Not as yet.

How many Gold Cups have you won?
1.

What type of horse does it take to win a Gold Cup?
Obviously a true stayer that must be in peak condition.

If given the choice of rides, which horse would you want to ride in the race?
Nothing comes to mind.

Duncan Howells trains the gutsy grey stayer, Knight To Remember who bounced back to form with a good last run in the Gold Vase. How has he taken that run and what do you make of his chance in the Gold Cup?
I have no idea how he has taken the run. He looks to be coming back to form and just at the right time.

You and Duncan Howells are having a great run of success. Which other of his horses you are associated with do you think will be worth following?
My Sanctuary is very difficult to train and on race day she is a nightmare to control but she is very good and worth following in the future. Louvre has to be the one of most courageous horses I’ve ever ridden and Regal Eagle is destined for the top.

Duncan is a very quiet but determined and confident trainer. What do you consider to be his best attributes as a trainer?
He is very passionate about his horses and horse racing in general.  He has a very good return on investment ratio in his yard and he is definitely one of the best trainers I’ve ridden for.

Do you consider yourself to be Duncan’s stable jockey?
Yes, I am.

What is your most comfortable riding mass?
I can do 52kgs when needed but I’m most comfortable at 53kgs.

How many times a week do you ride work and where do you mainly ride work?
I ride work five days a week and I split those between Summerveld and Ashburton.

Which trainers do you concentrate on riding work for? 
Aside from Duncan, I ride a lot for Mike Miller and then whoever else is giving me rides.  I also get many rides from Chris Erasmus.

What are your short and long term ambitions for yourself as a jockey?
To keep riding winners and then to keep riding for as long as possible.

Do you have an agent or do you book all your own rides?
Rob Champion does my rides and has for the last eight years.  I attribute much of my success to him as I only really started doing well once he became my agent.  His knowledge of form is second to none and I generally leave it up to him to select the best rides for me.

Do you have a sponsor and how important do you think sponsors are for jockeys?
T.I.B Insurance sponsors all my short term insurance needs but I’m still looking for a sponsor to wear with pride on race day.  We have a few lines in the water though.

You rode My Sanctuary at Clairwood in the start debacle. On reflection how differently do you, as one involved, feel the matter could have been handled?
There should never have been a debacle.  It was a false start, plain and simple, and the starter should have called us back and we should have reloaded.

My Sanctuary
Do you think that race has adversely affected My Sanctuary?
I’m sure it has.  She was very temperamental to begin with.

You are a professional jockey and as such racing is your living but what else in life are you passionate about?
Books. At one stage I had about 800 of them.  When they became too much, I donated a lot to charity.  I still have about 300 though.

Do you do anything apart from riding work and in races to keep you at maximum fitness?
I ride a lot of work and I find that and race riding at least twice a week is more than enough to keep me fit.

Does the old maxim, “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman,” apply to Alec Forbes?
Absolutely! My wife, Lezeanne Forbes has always been a great supporter and source of strength to me, through the good times and the difficult times. She is successful in her own right, having worked in the racing industry for many years. She is embarking on a new venture as a racehorse trainer here in KZN, in her own name. She is a fantastic horse woman and with her experience, knowledge, determination and sheer passion for her work, I know this venture will also be a great success.




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