Emmanuel Teunissen on his play-horse, triumphant at the winning post.
Emmanuel Teunissen on his play-horse, triumphant at the winning post.
Another day at the races for Emmanuel  Teunissen, this time with Lyle Hewitson.
Another day at the races for Emmanuel Teunissen, this time with Lyle Hewitson.

HE MIGHT be only 5 years old, but what this little boy with dreadlocks and a wide smile lacks in years he makes up for in the vast knowledge and understanding he has of horse racing.

You only have to mention the name Bela Bela to Emmanuel Teunissen, a Grade 00 pupil at Crawford La Lucia Pre-Primary, and his face lights up.

“She’s by Dynasty, you know,” he says with a knowing smile.

“Justin Snaith trained her and she’s out of Mystic Spring. She doesn’t race any more. But one day I am going to visit her in Cape Town. I really love her. She is like a princess.”

Emmanuel’s mother, Jo, is understandably proud of her son’s passion for horses and horse racing.

“I’m the keeper of his silks,” she says. “He is very particular about looking good at the races. Everything has to be exactly right, from his boots to his goggles. We respect that.”

Emmanuel has been granted permission to wear silks from the cream of trainers and racing establishments, including Alesh Naidoo, Chris van Niekerk, and the Mauritz-fontein Stud, which he wears for special race days.

He then shows me his bedroom, which is more like an equestrian museum than a kid’s bedroom.

There are horse pictures everywhere, including ones of him taken with the cream of South African jockeys and trainers.

Mike de Kock, Justin Snaith, Anthony Delpech, S’Mango Khumalo and Jeff Lloyd are all in his hall of fame.

Every wall is festooned with racing memorabilia - everything from an Oratorio cap to a signed message from the owners of Bela Bela, who told Emmanuel that he was the future of racing and to keep up the interest.

His favourite horses, he says, rattling them off at supersonic speed, are Dynasty, Abashiri, Summer in the City, Ginger Biscuit, Zenyatta, and African Night Sky.

“Do you want to know my favourite picture?” he asks, pointing to a picture of Anthony Delpech riding Bela Bela to victory in the Garden Province Stakes.

“Anthony gave me his riding gloves and his whip. They are like the best things in my life.”

So, too, is the mechanical horse that sits in the corner of his bedroom on which he practises his riding skills.

It is almost as though the rich history of racing is ingrained in his being as he bounces out of the starting gates and manoeuvres his way to the front, looking neither to the left nor the right, simply aiming for the winning post.

“Not too much whip,” he says, as he takes off at a furious pace, giving a triumphant salute at the imaginary winning post.

“You must ride with your hands and your heels like Lyle Hewitson does. One day I would like to be a jockey who is kind to horses.”

Emmanuel’s adoptive father, school teacher Bjorn Teunissen, explains the background to this extraordinary little boy who has become an icon at the Greyville race course where he never misses a celebrity racing event, including yesterday’s Elan Gold Cup.

“His passion for horse racing began when he was about 2 years old. My wife and I are from a keen race-going family and from the first time we took him to the races he was hooked.”

Teunissen says horse racing was the one thing that always made Emmanuel happy.

“The day he got his own racing silks, breeches, boots and riding helmet was a day we will never forget. It was like a dozen Christmases all rolled into one.”

Teunissen believes that even if his horse-mad son does not become a jockey or a trainer, the knowledge and love of the horse racing industry will always be an important part of his life.

“You need a new generation of youngsters who want to follow a career in horse racing in South Africa. It has such a long and proud tradition. At least Emmanuel will be at the forefront.”

As yet, the horse-crazy youngster has never ridden a real horse.

“I really want to do that. I have been practising for such a long time and I don’t think I will fall off.”

We don’t think so either.

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SUNDAY TRIBUNE