Rachel Venniker all set to be the July’s first woman jockey

Rachel Venniker during an interview at the Gallops, at which all July entrants have to be on show, on Friday. l Supplied

Rachel Venniker during an interview at the Gallops, at which all July entrants have to be on show, on Friday. l Supplied

Published Jul 1, 2024


Durban — Will it be a case of third time lucky?

Rachel Venniker has been waiting two years for her redemption race. She was meant to be the first woman to ride at the Durban July in 2022, but she was injured. She returned last year but could not compete because of the last-minute withdrawal of her horse.

She is back this year riding Without Question and hoping to win big.

The 23-year-old from Summerveld, Hillcrest, is so hyped up about horse racing that she lives five minutes away from the racehorse training centre.

She says she has been involved in horse racing her whole life.

“I used to showjump and when I was 14 years old I started riding track work (exercising the racehorses in the morning). I then began competing in amateur races when I was 17.

“After I had completed my matric at Roseway Waldorf School, I was accepted into the South African Jockey Academy when I was 18.

“I’ve always loved horses and I fell in love with racing the first time I went to the track, and I’ve never looked back.”

Venniker said horse racing was not an easy sport and the training was difficult.

“Horse racing is very tough. Apprentice jockeys have to do a five-year training programme at the Academy,” she explained.

“I, however, came with experience due to riding in the amateur races so I only had to do a three-year apprenticeship, which involves a lot of training from riding to gym to nutrition.”

Rachel Venniker at the Gallops on Wednesday, riding her horse Without Question. l SUPPLIED

Her hard work and talent led to her being the first woman jockey to make the Durban July field in 2022 but things didn’t go according to plan.

She made the final field, with Red Saxon, a Joe Soma-trained horse, but just days before the race she suffered injuries after an accident at Greyville Racecourse.

“Unfortunately, I was injured in my last race ride before July. The horse I was riding fly-jumped out of the starting gates as the race started and I hit my head on the top of the gates. I suffered a whiplash and concussion which ruled me out of riding on July day.”

This left Venniker devastated, but she had another chance last year with Erico Verdonese-trained Jimmy Don horse but the race was not in her favour.

“The horse I was confirmed to ride was unfortunately made second reserve, so with there being no scratchings from the main race, he had to run in the consolation race with me.”

This development once again left her out of the race and the title of the first woman jockey to compete in the Durban July.

Venniker is set to ride Without Question, which was announced among the top 18 horses for the final field and draw ceremony. She pulled gate number three, which she said makes her happy since it is her favourite gate number.

“It’s really awesome. I’m really glad that I pulled a good starting stall gate and that my ride, Without Question, is such a lovely and kind horse. We’ve done well together, having finished third in the Cape Town Met.

“It’s fantastic and an honour to ride in the biggest race in the country.

“It was such a relief to be called in the final 18, but then the excitement kicked in and I was over the moon.”

She said her training for the big day was going as planned.

“Everything is going well. I will continue my normal schedule into the race (exercising the horses in the morning and race riding up to the week before the race). I’ve ridden in over 2000 races and I’ve had over 250 winners, including a Group 2 and 3.”

Without Question is trained by Justin Snaith and owner Nick Jonsson.

“I will, of course, try my best to win on Saturday, but I’ll be very happy if we can run a place and that we all come home safely.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be part of the Durban July, but I try not to think too much about it,” she said.

Venniker said she believed women could excel in horse racing, even though the sport is dominated by men.

Rachel Venniker is back this year riding Without Question and hoping to win big. l CANDIESE MARNEWICK

Sunday Tribune