IN Racing
Champion South African hoop makes instant impact
Warren Kennedy is quickly learning what’s required to be a successful jockey in New Zealand.
NZ Racing Desk | October 23, 2022
Photo: Trish Dunell

Warren Kennedy is quickly learning what’s required to be a successful jockey in New Zealand.

The two-time champion South African jockey arrived in Auckland a week ago and after six rides for a third placing at Tauranga on Wednesday, got off the mark when guiding Cleese home for Cambridge trainer John Bell in the Dunstan Horsefeeds Stayers (2400m) Rating 83 at Te Rapa on Saturday.

Already the 41-year-old is noticing the style of racing is vastly different than South Africa, where many courses are very roomy with long home straights.

“I haven’t ridden on tracks with 400 metre straights very often. You get places like Turffontein (in Johannesburg) where there’s a 1000 metre run-in and plenty of time to improve your position,” Kennedy said.

“The races here are a bit sharper and a bit quicker and take a little bit of getting used to. They go pretty quick for the first 300-400m here looking for position and then it’s a yank up because they’ve obviously worked hard to get that position, and then with a short stretch you’ve got to get going a little bit earlier.”

Kennedy produced a copybook ride on Cleese, settling him one off the fence and three horses back, producing him at the top of the straight to outlast Starrybeel and current New Zealand champion jockey Michael McNab after a tough battle in the final stages, despite drifting inwards towards the line.

“Everything went basically to plan, but the horse pulled me through. When they’re moving and travelling well like that, it’s easier to find the gaps that you need than a horse that’s off the bit and struggling,” he said.

“Getting the first win helps boost the confidence a little bit, but there’s a lot of tracks in New Zealand so there’s a lot to get used to.”

Kennedy’s move to New Zealand was facilitated by Byerley Park founder Daniel Nakhle and former South African jockey Donavan Mansour after he was looking for opportunities to ply his trade overseas.

“I wanted a better dynamic for the family – there it’s racing every day, travelling every single day, and I hardly got to see my kids, so I didn’t want that to keep going,” he said.

“The time was right to send my CV out while everything was going well – I could have had a fall and been out for six months and suddenly been forgotten about, and the day after I sent my CV out Donavan got back to me, and it’s always encouraging when guys like him get in touch.

“Daniel and Donavan have been really good to me and have been showing me the ropes, introducing me to people I need to know, so it’s been really good.”

Helping Kennedy settle into New Zealand is the fact he already has family here. His brother Tyron has been here for about 15 years after marrying a New Zealander, while his sister Robyn has been here for five years. Both live on Auckland’s North Shore.

For the moment Kennedy is also on the North Shore but once his wife Barbara and their daughters, Jamie Lee, 3, and Ryleigh, 1, arrive in November, they are likely to move closer to Byerley Park, west of Karaka.

“I haven’t quite worked out logistically where I’m going to be staying. My wife’s arriving in a couple of weeks and I’ll let her decide where we should go because I’ll get it wrong, guaranteed,” he said.

Kennedy said he’d found his fellow jockeys in New Zealand to be very welcoming, and he’d already done some research into who his toughest competitors would be. He said his next research task would be learning about the breeding scene to help understand the aptitude of some of the horses he rides.

He will also be making trips to Waikato in the next couple of weeks to introduce himself to some of the major thoroughbred players in that region, and will be getting used to barrier trials, something South Africa does not have.

“We did have trials for a little while but it didn’t catch on,” he said.

“It’s a different dynamic here with trials playing such an important role in securing rides for the future.”

Kennedy has been one of South Africa’s leading riders for some time, winning a champion apprentice title in his earlier years and then becoming champion rider overall in 2019-20 and 2021-22.

He has ridden some notable horses, the best of which was probably Summer Pudding, the 2019-20 South African Horse of the Year after winning the Triple Tiara, the three-year-old fillies’ Triple Crown. Kennedy piloted her to most of her big-race victories, including the Gr.1 Summer Cup (2000m), Gr.1 Woolavington (2000m), Gr.1 South African Fillies’ Classic (1800m), and Gr.2 Gauteng Fillies Guineas (1600m).

Though the personable Kennedy shouldn’t have much problem fitting into the New Zealand scene, he is looking forward to the upcoming arrival of fellow South African jockey Craig Zackey, who also moves to Byerley Park in November.

“I think we will play off each other a little. It’s not easy moving to a completely different country with young families. We’re friendly so it will be nice to have a fellow South African around.”

Warren Kennedy Cleese John Bell Dunstan Horsefeeds Stayers Turffontein Starrybeel Michael McNab Byerley Park Daniel Nakhle Donavan Mansour Summer Pudding Craig Zackey