South African Champion Cheyne Relishing UK Challenge

It is not unusual to see Group 1-winning jockeys riding work in Newmarket, but it is a less familiar sight to find one riding four lots a day through the depths of winter. That, however, is how South Africa’s multiple champion Greg Cheyne has been spending his time since relocating from his native country last August.

Cheyne and his wife Claire are both now employed by William Haggas at Somerville Lodge, and the jockey has recently been given the green light by the British Horseracing Authority to resume his race-riding career in the UK. That starts on Saturday when he partners Eastern Charm (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) in the Haggas colours at Yarmouth.

Cheyne, 46, signed off in South Africa in July by winning a Group 3 for Ridgemont Highlands, the stud owned by the Kieswetter family who retained his services through the previous eight years. In this part of the world, the Kieswetter name is more readily associated with the family’s Irish-based Barnane Stud, which celebrated a first homebred Royal Ascot winner last year with the Haggas-trained Candleford (Ire) (Kingman {GB}). It was for the same family that Cheyne was given his first taste of Newmarket aboard Whisky Baron (Aus) (Manhattan Rain {Aus}), on whom he had won the G1 Sun Met at Kenilworth.

“I was a little bit wowed by what Newmarket had to offer when Whisky Baron brought me over here, even though that was just part of his preparation to move elsewhere,” says Cheyne of the gelding’s run in the G2 Joel S. of 2017. “That was always in the back of my mind, what I’d experienced. I’ve been race-riding for the best part of 30 years, and then when I experienced this, I thought, ‘Wow, I want a part of that’.”

He adds, “During Covid, I looked at options in Australia and New Zealand, and then my wife came out to the UK and did the Diploma Course at the National Stud. She was away from home for six months and she absolutely loved it, and then worked for William Haggas for three weeks as she had a few weeks left over. One thing led to another and we discussed options of moving abroad again.”

Cheyne was in good company earlier in the week when riding work on the turf gallop adjacent to the Rowley Mile. His fellow riders included Cieren Fallon and Dougie Costello, as well as retired jockeys Michael Hills, Ted Durcan, Andrew Tinkler and Colm Sharkey.

“I saw a little bit of it in 2017, but now that I’ve been here on a more permanent basis, just to see all the gallops has been fantastic,” he says. “Even last week I rode on a new gallop and I’ve been here how many months? It’s just incredible the facilities here, and how things can be so different.”

Highlighting the varied approaches to racehorse training around the world, he continues, “We have a certain way of doing it in South Africa, where you will get a horse to a certain level, then you’ll find a race, and even if it’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse, you’ll find a race probably over six furlongs, then you’ll step up to a mile, and then maybe a mile one, and then the race that it’s targeted for.

“Whereas here, a horse can be off the track for a year for whatever reason, and you can bring it back in a Group 1 ready to be at its best. And that’s purely because of the facilities. We couldn’t try and replicate that in South Africa because we don’t have the facilities to get a horse to that level to compete. We basically race them fit in South Africa, whereas here there are all the facilities you need to get a horse to peak fitness for any given race.”

I think I’m a little bit spoiled in what I’m experiencing in Newmarket because of the yard I’m working for.

Cheyne’s riding experience is not restricted to South Africa. In a career which has already garnered more than 2,300 winners and 12 Grade 1 victories, he has also spent two seasons in Hong Kong and 18 months in Singapore, as well as riding in Malaysia, Macau, Korea, Zimbabwe and Germany.

“I could ride in South Africa for another five-plus years successfully,” he says. “I was very fortunate with the job that I had in Port Elizabeth as well as the support that I got in Cape Town, so I could have carried on there, but I just felt that while I’m still in what I’d consider to be my prime we’d come over to the UK and work towards a future here.

“I know I’m not going to be a jockey for all that much longer. God willing, I’ve got another five years minimum in me, but what do I do when I’m not a jockey any more? I thought there might be better opportunities here than there would be back home.”

With Laura Way signed up as his agent, Cheyne is fully aware of the stiff competition for rides in Britain. Even in his own stable, Tom Marquand and Cieren Fallon get first and second call, with Adam Farragher also well supported by Haggas. However, during a busy summer schedule, the rule that now prevents jockeys from riding at more than one meeting in a day will likely work in his favour. 

“I’ve sent in my application to the BHA, and let’s hope we can find a ride or two,” he says modestly. “That would be great if that’s from the boss’s side, and then I’ll look to pick up outside support as well. You’ve got to get the ball rolling somehow, and getting rides is hard because there are so many jockeys here in the UK and they’re working hard for their rides. So, I know it’s not going to be easy, and when you’re younger you can work your way in. I’ve got a CV to back me up, but whether that means anything, I don’t know.”

In the meantime, winter has finally ceded power to spring and the promise of the Craven meeting. Cheyne admits that he has enjoyed the recent months working with some of the finest Thoroughbreds in Britain as the yearlings have turned two and the tempo has started to increase. That work has been on the ground in every aspect of the stable’s routine, as well as in the saddle.

“We’re very fortunate,” he admits. “The stock that I’m seeing and riding here is, it’s quite incredible. I think I’m a little bit spoiled in what I’m experiencing in Newmarket because of the yard I’m working for. And you can see some of the other big yards out there, the horses that are going around. It’s awesome. Working for William has been quite an eye-opener really.”


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