ONE of South Africa’s legendary jockeys‚ Felix Coetzee‚ stunned the racing world on Wednesday when he announced his retirement.
Although he is 54 years old‚ Coetzee has remained one of the fittest members of the jockeys’ room and was expected to return to the saddle following a recent hip operation.
However‚ Coetzee‚ who won three Durban July Handicaps in an illustrious career‚ revealed on Wednesday that his hip problem had persisted.
“Unfortunately‚ I am struggling with the wear and tear on my hip and subsequent hip replacement and have had to call it a day.
“For my future‚ because of my love of horses‚ I want to stay in the racing industry in some way and I am working to do just that.”
Coetzee rode his first winner on Royal Drummer at Clairwood in 1974 — it was the beginning of 39 years of race riding which saw him capture three SA jockey titles and a total of 75 Grade 1 successes.
The Cape Town-based jockey‚ who retires with a total of 3‚508 wins‚ made his mark overseas capturing big races in Hong Kong‚ Singapore‚ Japan and Dubai.
In Hong Kong he became a household name with victories in a number of the former British colony’s feature events.
It was his association with champion sprinter Silent Witness‚ which made him the hero of racing fans in Hong Kong.
The Aussie-bred gelding won his first 17 races and Coetzee rode him in every one of his 29 career starts.
Coetzee’s Hong Kong record includes two Derbies‚ two International Sprints‚ two Gold Cups‚ the Stewards Cup and International Mile.
He won the Golden Shaheen in Dubai‚ the Sprinter Stakes in Japan and the Krisflyer Sprint in Singapore.
Just 18 month ago‚ Coetzee’s legion of fans were cheering when he partnered trainer Dean Kannemeyer’s stayer‚ In Writing‚ to victory in the Gold Cup at Greyville.
It was his eighth triumph in the popular long-distance race.
Former champion trainer Terrance Millard provided many of Coetzee’s winners and they were one of the most formidable trainer-jockey combinations between 1982 and 1991 when Millard retired.
Punters are in for a marathon session at the Vaal on Thursday with 11 races scheduled for the Free State track.
Piere Strydom rode a double at the course on Tuesday and has good prospects this afternoon on Emearg (fourth race)‚ Negev (fifth) and Woza Madoda in the final leg of the Pick 6.
Emearg is sure to start as the favourite in the fourth race as trainer Lucky Houdalakis’ filly has finished second in both her two starts.
The four-year-old’s chief rival could be Gavin Lerena’s mount‚ The It Girl.
Trainer Louis Goosen scored with Move Like Jagger on Tuesday and will be hoping to welcome another winner when Negev does duty for his stable in the fifth race.
This looks like a competitive handicap and Negev will have to be at her best to hold off the challenges of Honey Bun and Tzigane.
St John Gray’s three-year-old‚ Everest‚ won his maiden in good style at Turffontein and makes his handicap debut in the seventh race.
While the grey faces no easy task against the likes of Nigel Mansell and Sabre Tooth‚ he does have more scope for improvement than most of his opponents.