MARY SLACK WITH ANTHONY DELPECH.
Name and nickname: Anthony Delpech. My nickname is Bonji – an abbreviation of “bonjour” – which was coined during my days as an appie. My home language was French and I spoke English with a terrible accent.
Date and city of birth: Seychelles 10 February 1969 (48).
Family: Wife is Candice – we’ve been together 20 years and three children, Damon (19); Chelsea (16); Brooklyn (8)
What drew you to horseracing? When I first came to South Africa, aged about 13 and in Std 6, I struggled at school because my English was very bad. I was looking for any sport to get out of normal school. I was tiny at that age and my teachers always said I could become jockey. I went home and told my dad, who was always watching racing on TV. It went on from there.
Apprentice days? I started riding in my second year. The other jockeys at the South African Jockeys’ Academy with me were Mark Khan, Anton Marcus, Marthinus Mienie and Frikkie Vermaak. There’s only me and Anton still riding, all the others retired. I didn’t know too much about racing at that age. I thought of it as a sport, rather than a career. But once I started learning more about racing, started riding races and winners, having to keep my weight down and become dedicated to racing, I knew this was for life. I passionately love what I do and will continue to raceride until the day I feel I’m not competitive enough for a top position. I’ll only then call it a day.
Where are you based? In Durban.
When were you licensed? I started at the Academy in 1983 and qualified as a jockey in 1990.
How many races have you ridden in? 16,000 just in South Africa. I don’t know how many overseas. I was abroad for about eight years, riding in Hong Kong for years, Singapore for two seasons and Dubai for two years. I’ve also ridden in Mauritius for a couple of months here and there. I rode in Japan – a very good experience for one race meeting. You get locked up night before the races – it’ the first time that’s happened to me. You’re given your own room at a hotel on-course, dinner and there’s a canteen. It was a great experience. The morning before the races you’re not allowed out of the facility. The Japanese racetrack is immaculate and racing is so professional. Michael (Muis) Roberts, Felix Coetzee and Dougie Whyte have also ridden there.
How many winners have you had? Over 3,000 – 2,910 in South Africa; more than 100 in Hong Kong; 20 in Mauritius and in Dubai, about 30.
Tell us about your first winner. It was in my second year as an apprentice. I beat Muis Roberts a short head and went into the second box because he thought he had won the race, so I never got the picture. I was already back in jockeys’ room when the judges decided I’d won. I’ll always remember beating Muis to win my first race. The horse’s name was Thrasher for trainer Colin Lee.
Who was the best horse you’ve ridden? Vengeance Of Rain in Hong Kong. I won seven Group 1s on him – he won every group race from a mile to 2400m in Hong Kong – the Hong Kong Cup, QEII Cup and the Derby as well as the Sheema Classic in Dubai. David Ferraris trained him. Igugu would be the best local horse I’ve ridden.
Who is the best horse you are currently riding? I am retained by Mary and Jessica Slack, riding for Wilgerbosdrift Stud and Mauritzfontein Stud. I’m loving my job – the best thing that could have happened to me at this time of my career. I rode for the Oppenheimers when they had horses with Dennis Drier – they were good to me – and now to have job with their daughter and granddaughter is a great thing for me.
What was the hardest thing you ever had to do? Winning the Met on Igugu. It was one of the hardest and most emotional weeks of my career leading up to the race and then winning. She wasn’t thriving and a lot of things had gone wrong. It was touch and go whether she would run or not. She normally travelled very hard. That was the first time she didn’t and she was fifth or sixth when normally she was leading or second. It was all going wrong. Turning into the straight she took her time and I didn’t think we’d get there till the last 100m. She showed guts and determination to get there on the line - and the relief of her winning has got to be one of the greatest moments for me. That was not the proper Igugu. Her will to win was what won her the race.
What was your greatest achievement? Winning in Dubai on Vengeance Of Rain. We traveled to Dubai to win the Sheema Classic – a highlight of my career. He travelled very well in the race, third on the fence and was always going very well. Turning into the straight, he was just cantering, then it was just a matter of letting him go. Then it was race over. He quickened away and won very easily. I had a personal relationship with Vengeance Of Rain. I saw him almost every afternoon and he became like my baby. We had a great relationship.
Are you superstitious? Yes. But I don’t tell.
What are your hobbies? I enjoy playing golf. I play off a 12 handicap. I’m a member of Cotswold Downs. During the Durban winter season, I play twice a week, but in the off season, maybe two to three times a month. I also watch a lot of racing. I’m terrible, stuck to the TV. I love to keep on learning and learning and watch all the international races. You can never stop leaning in racing. My favourite person to watch is Joao Moreira, who is probably the greatest jockey now. I don’t watch his riding style, but the decisions he makes during a race. Sometimes I’ll say, I’d never make that decision because I’d be criticised when I got beat. But he can afford to make those decision. He’s so good that even if he loses a race, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, a lot of top riders make the right decisions, even if they are risky, like going to the front or riding a different kind of race to normal. That’s why the top four get good rides. But that all comes with hard work to get to that position.
What is your favourite food? I love a medium steak. I enjoy having a braai at home but even when I go out at night, that’s what I eat 99% of the time. I’ve never had any problem keeping my weight down. I can walk about at 54kg. My bottom weight for good rides is 53.5kg. If I have to lose the weight, I’ll normally sit hot bath for half an hour and lose 1kg. I don’t do it often, though. When I was younger and the horses ran with lighter weights, I’d run with sweat clothes on. I still train in the gym, I’ve got a treadmill – but I run for fun now, not to lose weight.
What music do you like to listen to? The ‘80s music, rather than all newer head-banging things. I enjoy listening to Westlife.
Do you follow sport? I love watching rugby – I support the Sharks and Patrick Lambie is my favourite player. I also watch soccer – Arsenal is my team with Giroud and Sanchez sticking out for me.
What book are you currently reading? I read as little as possible, apart from Computaform – it’s a great read, although I’m not a good tipster.
What programmes do you watch on TV? I don’t watch much, except horseracing.
What movie did you find epic? I can’t remember the last time I watched movie – probably one of the kid’s movies.
What car do you drive? A Landrover Discovery.
What are your objectives for the next five/10 years? I hope I can still keep riding as well as at the moment. I feel I’m riding a well as ever.