WINNING FORM-sponsored professional jockey, MUZI ANDILE YENI (26) is a perfect example of the cliché, dynamite comes in small packages. The small statured, very likeable Yeni, had his first ride just over a decade ago and through sheer hard work and determination has firmly entrenched his name within the South African jockey ranks. Muzi currently lies in 6th position on the National Jockeys Log with 118 winners, the third year in succession he has surpassed the century winners mark. All this without being contracted to a particular stable which shows his ability within the profession. He has ridden 2 Grade 1 winners thus far and promises plenty more. With the Gold Cup just around the corner, Muzi is still finalizing his ride for the marathon event but his supporters can rest assured, that he will give his mount every possible chance and must be included in the play.
What is your name?
Muzi Andile Yeni.
What is your star sign and birthdate?
6 December 1986, which makes me Sagittarius.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born and brought up in Claremont, Durban.
Where do you live?
I live in Westbrook, near to the new airport.
Tell us about your family?
My fiancé is Kim and we have a daughter called Linda. Kim also has a daughter called Amu.
Do you have a ‘nickname’?
When I was younger I was called MPI.
I love spaghetti bolognaise. I could eat it every day.
Jameson and lemonade.
I am a soccer fan and I love Barcelona. They play brilliant one-touch football and have the world’s best player, Lionel Messi in their squad.
Favourite holiday destination?
I have been to many beautiful places but most of all I enjoy being at home and spending time with my family.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I don’t read books that much and my main reading is restricted to intense form studying.
Which characteristic about yourself do you like the most?
I am kind, friendly and easy to be around; at least that’s what I think. But, the other side of me surfaces when I get into the parade ring, I am ambitious, determined and have a will to win.
Mention some of your hobbies?
I enjoy going out, chilling with friends and being with my family.
Is there anything the public don’t know about Muzi Yeni that they would be interested to know? When it comes to me, what you see is what you get.
Where did you go to school?
Pinetown Junior, then Senior. I went to Hunt Road Secondary and after that to the Jockey Academy.
What sort of student were you and what did you really enjoy studying?
I was a fair student at school but only did the bare minimum. I probably do more studying now, of the racecards, than of my books whilst at school.
What tertiary education did you attain?
Jockey academy matric.
When did your interest in horseracing begin?
My dad said he thought I could be a jockey and that sparked my interest.
Who assisted you in your application to enroll in the academy?
My dad helped in everything to do with the academy. I am eternally grateful to him.
How difficult was it for you to fit into the lifestyle at the academy?
I fitted in very easily as I had been to a multi-racial school and everything fell into place.
Who were your fellow apprentices when you joined?
Keanen Steyn, Raymond Danielson, Richard Fourie and Gavin Lerena.
Which of them were you particularly friendly with?
I was friendly with Keanen and Raymond.
Who were your riding masters at the time?
Mr. Vincent Curtis and Mr. Paul Gadsby.
Which trainers took an interest in you and mentored you early in your career?
Nathan Kotzen, assistant trainer to Mike de Kock took a particular interest in me and introduced me to the champion trainer.
Tell us about your first winner?
My first winner was aboard Storm King for Mike de Kock. It was over 2400m at Clairwood and it was the 12th ride of my career.
As a KZN born and bred man you obviously enjoy riding and living here. Would you ever consider moving to another province on a permanent basis?
I do enjoy riding here but it is hard to consistently boot home winners, if you are not linked up with the bigger yards. Unfortunately, I haven’t secured a bigger stable so yes I would consider relocating, if the opportunity arose. I feel that I have plenty of scope for improvement and can only improve by riding better quality horses. Having said that, I do want to stress that I am very appreciative of the support that I am getting from all the trainers around the country.
Which of the KZN trainers are you most involved with?
I get some rides from Kom Naidoo, a few from Mike de Kock (not enough though) and a handful from other trainers in the province. If anything, I get much better support in PE and then great support from Kimberley, the Visser’s, in particular.
You have always been close to the De Kock stable. How often do you ride work for the stable and do you get many of their light weight rides?
I ride work for the yard 3 times a week which keeps me in touch with the horses and the stable. I do get some lightweight rides for the yard but their stable jockey can also ride lightweight, so there aren’t enough opportunities there. Still, as mentioned above, I am grateful for the few chances that I receive, thanks to Mike and Nathan.
Which of their horses, you are currently riding in work, are you particularly keen to ride in races? The stable has so many good horses that it is difficult to keep track of them all. However, the star one’s seem to be Vercingetorix, Festival Of Fire and Espumanti.
What would you say is the best horse you have ridden for Mike de Kock?
Definitely, Rememberance! I rode her once in a race at Clairwood and won on her. She went on to win the Gauteng Fillies Guineas, finished a close third in the SA Fillies Classic and then won the Gerald Rosenberg Stakes.
You won the President’s Champions Challenge at Turffontein on Joey Soma’s Happy Landing, that being your first Grade 1 win. Tell us about that race and what that achievement meant to Muzi Yeni?
I had ridden Happy Landing before and knew him quite well. Joey gave me all the confidence. I was glad to be part of a winning formula and grateful to Joey Soma for having me on at the right time. For me personally, it was a most memorable achievement and I had dreamt about the day from the first day I joined the academy. My new target is to kick on and ride successfully in many more Grade 1’s.
How many other graded races have you won?
I have won one more Grade 1 since with Master Plan in the Champions Cup of 2012. I have also won 3 Grade 2’s and 2 Grade 3’s. There will be plenty more, watch this space!
The recent R3.5 million Vodacom Durban July was won by your fellow WINNING FORM-sponsored jockey S’manga Khumalo, who made history by becoming the first black jockey to win this race. What were your emotions when you saw him pass the post first?
This might be a long answer but firstly, we should all thank the great Nelson Mandela and his former colleagues for even giving us, S’manga, myself and others the opportunity to participate in this great sport. Our prayers go out to him, and South Africans will be eternally grateful. Now back to the race, S’manga is a close friend of mine and I always knew that given the right horse that he, more than anyone could rewrite the history books. He and his horse came into the race in great form and he rode a perfect race and got there where it mattered most. It was an incredible feeling and I was very pleased for him. I thought it was great for the game as it would show the diversity in sports. Congratulations to S’manga Khumalo as well as the Tarry team for giving him the opportunity!
Do you think S’manga’s win will stimulate interest in horseracing in the black community?
In all honesty, I don’t really think so. Interest in horseracing within the black community seems to be growing very slowly but it was great to see Mrs. Radebe have a runner in the July. I will probably be a trainer by the time black interest reaches any great heights.
The July has the reputation of being a ‘rough’ race to ride in. Would you agree with this sentiment? Yes, it is a tough race. There is much more at stake and people from around the world are watching so the jockeys ride more aggressively and there is no quarter given. It is a great race to ride in though, and my best finish was a 4th with Thundering Jet in 2009 for Mike Bass. I finished just ahead of the ruling favourite and stable companion Pocket Power, ensuring a healthy quartet dividend of over R400 000 and I tipped myself to run into minor money at the Hollywood Pre-July Party, two days earlier. That’s where you get the real graft, at that party!
The Gold Cup is due to be run at the end of the month. Have you secured yourself a ride in the race?
For now, I am temporarily booked on trainer Ivan Moore’s Eton Mess but this could change, depending on whether he gets into the contest.
What type of horse does it take to win a Gold Cup?
Obviously, a horse with lots of stamina but it must also have a touch of class and be able to handle a tough race.
If given the choice of rides, which horse would you ride in the race?
I would like to ride Blake or Kolkata as both runners have come through their preparations very well. Kolkata was runner-up in the Gold Cup as a three-year old. The veteran stayer Knight To Remember bounced back to form as he showed his love for soft conditions when runner-up in the Gold Vase last time and is also peaking at the perfect time. He will come into the race under sufferance but will have a very light mass and has gone close in the Gold Cup before.
You are a natural lightweight. Is there any chance you will be making an all-out effort to win the South African Jockeys Championship next season?
To win the championship you need plenty of support from big stables throughout the country. At this point in time, it will be very difficult for me as I am not contracted to any stable but things could change. Let’s wait and see!
Have you any regrets in regard to the season which is about to come to an end?
Fortunately, not. The season started off well and then I got injured earlier this year and I was out for a substantial period. However, through my hard work and determination I have been really pleased with my stats over the past three months where I have achieved 40 winners, the best month being May during which I had 19.
Which feature races have you won?
I have been very fortunate and have won quite a few including many feature races in Port Elizabeth.
What is your most comfortable riding mass?
I am a natural lightweight so am fortunate to be able to ride 52kgs.
You keep yourself extremely busy by riding in PE and Kimberley, once-weekly, but yet still make the time to do ride work in KZN. Tell us about your busy schedule?
Yes, I do have a very hectic schedule and spend lots of time on flights but it is all worthwhile as I am lucky enough to be doing something that I love. It is particularly satisfying when I come back home after riding winners elsewhere in the country.
You have a very successful working relationship with the Visser team in Kimberley. It seems that this relationship goes beyond just the riding of their horses. Tell us about it?
I must say we have a really good working relationship. They trust me with their horses and don’t tie me down to strict instructions, which is a great benefit. I really enjoy being part of their successful set-up and would like to thank them for all their support.
Mention some horses that are worth following in Kimberley?
My top two would be Eye Of The World and Code Red.
Do you enjoy riding on the Kimberley sand track?
Yes, it is really comfortable to ride on and a very forgiving track on the horses.
From watching the races on sand it seems that, in most instances, horses going to the front have an advantage?
Yes, I would say so and that is mainly because of the shorter run in, as well as the kick back you receive, if you have to come from behind. Generally, I like to place my horses near the front of the pack and judging by my success there, it is obviously paying dividends.
Are you still able to keep track of the horses which are working well, in KZN, and which would you really like to ride in races?
As mentioned earlier, I still make sure I do ride work in KZN at least three times a week, so I am constantly keeping track of the decent horses. I often try to get the rides on them but this is not always possible for obvious reasons.
The KZN winter season is now drawing to a close. What are your immediate plans for the Gauteng and Cape seasons?
I am strongly considering relocating to the Cape for their season and let’s hope that I can get enough support from the trainers.
Which horses have you seen winning, or in work, that you think are going to do very well in the near future?
The Mike de Kock yard has some smart juveniles which will improve significantly in months to come. The Dennis Drier stable has also got some nice horses and Beach Beauty could again head their list during the new season, if she isn’t gone to stud. Then, with the absence of the great sprinter, What A Winter, trainer Duncan Howells’ top Var filly, Via Africa should hold her own during the country’s premier sprint races. She looks to have a very bright future.
You get lots of support from trainer’s Gavin Smith and Grant Paddock in PE. Tell us about your experiences there?
Firstly, PE is a great place to race. The above-mentioned trainer’s instill plenty of confidence in me and I also get steady support from other yards, including Justin Snaith’s team. There are some great horsemen in PE and I am very pleased to have their loyal support. I was extremely satisfied to be part of Justin Snaith’s record breaking achievement on Derby day in PE as I had two winners for the stable on the day. The second of which came aboard Bonnard in the final race of the day and that ensured that Justin gets the record. I would also like to make particular mention of Juan Nel, the assistant trainer to Justin, as he does all the hard work leading up to the races.
Mention some horses that are worth following in PE?
I would have to say the consistent Blaze Of Fire from the Bremner yard, Icemberg, who races for Justin Snaith and the Horse Chestnut colt Zobens from the Gavin Smith stable.
Do you ever watch tapes of your rides or do you just ride to the instructions you are given?
I try to watch as much replays of the country’s racing as possible, so if I am ever given the opportunity aboard a horse, then I am aware of how he/she likes to race.
You are a professional jockey and make your living by it but what else keeps you passionate about being a jockey?
I am a very determined person with an excellent will to win so that will always keep me passionate about my profession. However, the thought of finding the next SPECIAL horse that will carry me into the Grade 1’s and ultimately the Durban July inspires me.
Were you fortunate enough to see the great Frankel and Black Caviar run and what were your impressions of them watching them effortlessly beat their rivals?
Yes, I followed them closely on Tellytrack and it was great for the game. Their careers were marketed brilliantly by their respective countries and perhaps we can take a leaf out of their books. It was really exciting to see both champions find another gear when required, with a minimum of fuss. Their class was for all to see. It was also very refreshing when I represented South Africa at the International Jockeys Challenge and came up against Frankel’s regular jockey, Tom Queally.
Do you enjoy studying pedigrees and which stallions really excite you?
I am still learning about pedigrees but have noticed the stallion Silvano enjoying a cracking season and being well clear on the National Sires Log. Of course, he is the sire of Vodacom Durban July winner, Heavy Metal as well as the third placed three-year old filly, Do You Remember. The other stallions to follow are Var (responsible for the great miler, Variety Club) and Dynasty (sire of Run For It and Beach Beauty).
Do you ever have a bet on a horse or is your enjoyment limited to riding and winning?
No, I don’t bet. However, if any of my friends ask my opinion of one of my rides I will tell them what I think.
You have risen to prominence quickly in the game due to your hard work and determination. What are your main ambitions for yourself as a jockey?
My aim is to ride a better quality horse and to win as many Group races as possible.
You are sponsored by WINNING FORM. Do you find that being sponsored makes life easier for you as a jockey?
It is a huge plus and to have wonderful sponsors like Winning Form (a reputable company within the industry) is even more rewarding. A huge thanks to Winning Form for not only backing me, but other jockeys as well as trainers within the industry. They invest plenty into the industry and deserve all the success they get.
You recently attended the Hollywood Pre-July Party. Tell us about the atmosphere and were your selections close to the final result?
It was a really good vibe and thoroughly enjoyable. Apart from Pomodoro and Wylie Hall who were disappointing, my other tips all ran well. I selected Heavy Metal as part of my quartet and advised everyone that Desert Sheik was the best bet on the card and it duly arrived at 22/10.
If asked to be on the panel again next year, would you accept?
Yes, most definitely. I would always support my sponsor just as they do me.
What are your ambitions outside of racing?
I have been so involved in racing from a young age that all my ambitions are within the game.
Do you think racing could be made more spectator friendly by encouraging jockeys to meet racegoers at specially arranged functions? I am not sure about that. In my opinion a lot more money should be spent on advertising the game from every angle.
Would you enjoy getting to know racegoers and, more especially, your fans at the clubs?
Yes, it could but there are many drawbacks to it.
Have you any ideas as to how to attract bigger crowds to the racecourses?
I do have ideas but most of them are centered on advertising which I feel needs much more attention.
Does the maxim, “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman,” apply to Muzi Yeni?
My fiancé, Kim, is behind me in every way. She takes a huge interest in all that I do and backs me up through the good and the bad times. I owe a lot to Kim.
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