Umlazi-born, Apprentice Jockey, Siphesihle Hlengwa is soaring for the stars. He is currently in his fourth year of the apprenticeship programme at the South African Jockey Academy. Like any child growing up in the township, Siphesihle wanted to become a Mechanical Engineer but his dream soon faded after he fell in love with horseracing and his dream of becoming a jockey grew.
“As soon as I started high school, I was told by my Math’s Teacher, Mr. Frederick, about horseracing. He told me about the profession because of my height as jockeys are mostly short. At that time, I knew nothing about horseracing but as time went on, I fell in love with the sport and the horses and now I enjoy every minute of it,” Siphesihle said.
The young apprentice said he is inspired by a South African Thoroughbred horse racing jockey S’manga Khumalo, who is also the first Black jockey to win the Durban July Handicap, on his steed Heavy Metal at age 28 in 2013.
Khumalo was born and bred in KwaMashu, a township in Durban and Siphesihle said he looks up to him because of all that he has achieved in horseracing, and also because Khumalo comes from the same background as he does.
The former Fairvale Secondary School learner said that his apprenticeship journey at the South African Jockey Academy has been the greatest time of his life. “The academy has taught me a lot, not only about horseracing but also to be independent.”
His journey started off on a turbulent start at the academy as he had to overcome being an introvert. The aspiring jockey dreams of becoming one of the top jockeys to win graded races, and to also have a stable that would support him financially.
“I struggled to speak for myself when I first started because I was so shy. This affected me a lot when I had to ask trainers for rides,” he said.
That has changed over the years as he has now made some great strides in his career. “My greatest achievement so far has been to win the Christmas Handicap which was my first listed race, and I had a double win on the same day. I am so proud of myself for doing so well at the moment, riding winners.”
Siphesihle, who is the 2023 Students Representative Council Head boy, said he couldn’t have been where he is today without the help and support of his family and many others who believed in him. “My family has been fully behind me in everything that I do. Secondly, the academy and riding masters have been amazing in giving me a chance to become an apprentice and teaching me everything I know and what I will continue to learn and lastly, the trainers who believed in me and trusted me with their horses to ride when I started. Especially Mr. Puller who believed in me since I started riding track work and gave me my first ride, first winner, and my first double,” Siphesihle said.
Being a jockey is no child’s play, it requires a lot of dedication and hard work. Siphesihle said that in order to be a jockey, you also need to have passion for the sport and horses and be prepared to put in the hard work to get results.
Siphesihle’s apprenticeship was made possible by the Hollywood Foundation through its Bursary programme. “The Hollywood Foundation has helped me to achieve my dreams and become the person I am today. The organisation also helps to motivate me to work hard so that I can keep showing them that they weren’t wrong in selecting me to benefit from the programme. I would like to say a big thank you to the Hollywood Foundation for the help they have given me as an apprentice. Your support has really motivated me to work hard and to make you guys proud of what you have done for me. I would also like to say, may you please continue helping others, even out of racing, to help more people achieve their dreams without the financial worries.
In 2022, Siphesihle was awarded:
The Bennie Norton Trophy, which is awarded to an apprentice in his third year;
The Ronald Khumalo Prize, which is awarded to an apprentice who shows constant positive attitude towards owners, trainers and their peers; and
The McDonald Trophy, which is awarded annually to a 3rd to 5th year apprentice resident in KwaZulu Natal.