Piere “Striker” Strydom is the most prolific South African jockey in history and is now only 12 away from reaching a magical career tally of 5000 winners.
He and Jeff Lloyd are the only riders from this country to have ridden more than 4000 winners, which emphasises what an incredible feat the 5000 milestone would be.
Strydom said, “It is always nice to know you can do well, but the fact that you are setting records makes it extra special. I will have to be chuffed if I reach 5000, knowing that I will become the only South African to have ever done it, especially when remembering that we have had riders of the class of Jeff Lloyd and Muis Roberts.”
The six-times national champion jockey is the complete rider, combining immaculate balance, great hands and strength in the finish with an excellent racing brain and will to win.
Add to this his flair and it is not surprising that he is often regarded as the best jockey this country has ever produced.
Eleven-times champion Michael “Muis” Roberts, who’s winning of the British Flat Jockey Championships in 1992 was one of the greatest sporting achievements in South African history, is another who would amass many votes for the accolade.
However, Roberts is a big fan of Strydom’s and after mentioning the latter’s renowned balance, he singled out “judgement” as another of his best assets.
“He knows what is left in the tank,” said Roberts. Roberts also pointed out that Strydom was a “natural horseman. He gels with a horse immediately.”
Strydom is also known for his confident demeanour, but displayed a rare glimpse of his humble and emotional side when accepting the Equus Award as Champion Jockey just over a year ago.
He was reacting to the high salutations of the master of ceremonies Clyde Basel, who said without any hint of overstatement, “I didn’t see Martie Schoeman riding … neither did I see Tiger Wright riding … and I didn’t see Gerald Turner riding. But I have seen Piere Strydom riding.”
In Strydom’s sixth Championship in that 2012/2013 season, his first since the 2000/2001 season, he had 942 rides for 211 wins; a strike rate of 22, 4% and his win/place strike rate was 59, 34%.
His ex-wife Beattie is still his jockey’s agent and today they do not intentionally set out to win the Championship.
However, he said on that last occasion, “It fell into my hands. I found myself in a good position and it would have been silly to waste it.”
Talking of another possible championship this year, he said, “It is very hard to go for it every year, as we are not robots and to maintain the travel is very tough, although fortunately I always seem to be in a position in the latter part of the season to have a go.”
Strydom singled out his father “Hekkie” as having had the biggest influence on his career.
Hekkie was a trainer in Port Elizabeth and consequently Piere virtually grew up in the saddle and started riding work for his father long before he joined the South African Jockey’s Academy.
However, Strydom admits that he didn’t take to race riding naturally.
He said, “I wasn’t the bravest because I knew the dangers involved. I’m not talking about falling off, I had the confidence to control any horse on the farm without a problem, but controlling a racehorse is different and requires a lot of strength.”
Regarding his riding style, he said, “I learnt from the Academy masters and then tried to perfect it. It is how you feel comfortable. Sitting funny on a horse is not going to benefit it, when you are sitting balanced a horse feels balanced and I worked a lot on that aspect.”
However, he admitted, “You can be taught by Muis Roberts, but you are not going to get to the next level without natural talent.”
Strydom grew up in an era when there was always a lot of pace and his father, having taught him the importance of balance from a young age, emphasised the need to be patient and get there as late as possible.
Consequently, Piere quickly gained a reputation for his dramatic finishes from way off the pace and as a result acquired the nickname “Striker”.
Strydom first became a household name in the late 1980s after moving to Johannesburg in the wake of the Henneman disaster and finished second on the log in the 1989/1990 season.
His future brother-in-law Louis played a big part in his career, securing him rides in his early years in Johannesburg and helping him both to overcome his shyness and to refine his public image.
Strydom mentions the two occasions in which he has ridden seven winners a day, as well the first of his three Vodacom Durban July wins on London News and also his win on J J The Jet Plane in a Gr 1 sprint in Hong Kong as his most memorable days.
On the first of his seven-winner days, his popularity reached new heights at the now defunct Gosforth Park in Germiston on 14 July 1990, when he became the first and only jockey to ever ride the Pick 6. He didn’t actually ride six winners in a row that day as he was beaten on Brainteaser in a much publicised match race against Divine Act in between the Pick 6 races.
Strydom added that J J is likely the best horse he has ever ridden and said, “He had tremendous gate speed and the acceleration when necessary.” Before that he regarded Goldmark, whose action made it feel as if one was “floating”, as the best and he also mentioned Jet Master and London News.
Latterly the L’Ormarin’s Queen’s Plate winner Gimmethegreenlight was a highlight and he is looking forward to riding Louis The King next weekend.
Strydom has also ridden in Hong Kong, Australia, the UK, Mauritius, Dubai and Turkey.
He had a great season in Hong Kong in the mid-90’s, finishing third on the log with 56 winners, and this experience helped him mix and match his usual style with new found front-running tactics.
He regarded a six week trip to the UK in 1999, where he rode eight winners, as a life-changing experience as the horses were generally fitter and had more stamina, meaning waiting races had less success.
“It was the first time I really learnt how much one can use a horse,” he recalled. He added, “Riding overseas is important as one can otherwise become one dimensional.”
Strydom has ridden in all six of the recent Jockeys Internationals and said, “Knowing you are good enough to ride for your country is a privilege and is another highlight. It’s difficult to compare ourselves to overseas riders but it feels special to know that we can compete against them and beat them.”
Strydom was praised for his captaincy last year, but admitted he would prefer to be vice-captain. “I’m not a natural leader, I prefer to see what takes place and then try and correct it by offering advice.”
Strydom is 48 years of age but would not like to ride beyond 50. He said, “To still be riding at 50 is crazy, but sometimes there is nothing else to do and you need to earn a living. There are a few options I could go into, but not training!”
Strydom should reach the milestone sometime next month. However, he admitted, “The good rides have dried up a bit lately, the wheel keeps turning in racing, so I hope that will change.” Whenever the big moment does happen, everybody on course will surely surround him and perhaps even lift him on their shoulders. Racing fans will never lose appreciation for Piere Strydom’s sublime skills and he deserves every accolade he is given.