Champion jockey Jeff Lloyd, who is due to retire soon, hopes to have his last hurrah at the Vodacom Durban July next month.
DURBAN - BAGGING more than 5500 wins around the world, jockey Jeff Lloyd’s champion qualities during his 43-year racing career have never been in doubt.

Even when an ischemic stroke got the better of him five years ago, resulting in a third of his brain being determined dead, Lloyd bounced back and rode again.

Now 56, he is on the cusp of retirement but will ride in his last Vodacom Durban July this year. The six-time South African champion jockey wants to exit in style, by winning the VDJ - a race he has never won in 25 attempts.

Lloyd, who relocated to Australia 11 years ago, said winning the July - to be run in two weeks’ time - would be the “cherry on top”. And his mount is the aptly named Made to Conquer.

The closest he has come to winning the July was third, a position he has finished in at least 11 times.

“I go into every race hoping to do my best. I can’t do more than that. If it’s not meant to be, then I wouldn’t let that take away from my other achievements,” said Lloyd.

Apart from his plethora of wins in South Africa, he became Queensland’s champion jockey in the 2015/16 season.

His 131 wins in the 2016/17 season shattered the previous record of 103, and he also won the Australian Jockey Premiership in the same season.

He is about to be crowned with his third Queensland jockey championship. It was an extraordinary achievement because of the stroke he had suffered in 2013.

A neurosurgeon told him it was the result of him jerking his neck and tearing an artery when a horse misbehaved in the mounting yard. “That was the only career-threatening injury I suffered. I was told I could never ride again,” Lloyd remembered.

He announced his comeback with a win - and there was no looking back.

Lloyd, who was born in the UK and moved to South Africa when he was 11, said from a young age “all I wanted to be is a jockey”. “I used to watch racing on TV in England and loved horses, even though I never touched one until I joined the SA Jockey Academy,” said Lloyd.

His first win as a professional came on board Panache at the Vaal Racecourse in 1977. Since then, he’s had approximately 30000 rides.

Given his success in racing, Lloyd said he’s no horse whisperer but he knows how to bond with a horse.

“You definitely need to have an affinity with a horse to get it relaxed. I always tell my boys (Jaden, 16, and Zac, 14) that winning is 40% ability and 60% feel.”

Both his sons have ambitions to be jockeys. Jaden, who is currently a first-year student at the Summerveld-based academy, talked his father into riding in the July again.

“Jaden begged me to give the July a final crack. So it all made sense to come back,” Lloyd said.

Gold Circle’s spokesperson, Andrew Harrison said Lloyd was one of the finest jockeys to ride in the country. “Horses run for him and it’s something of an anomaly that he’s not managed a July win,” said Harrison.

Local racing personality Shawn Meaker said it would be a fitting ending for Lloyd to win the July. “Win or lose, Jeff will always be a champion. He’s one of the best riders in the world,” Meaker said.

Former South African trainer David Payne, who has also relocated to Australia, said Lloyd was very popular and admired in Australia for his tenacity.

“He is going to leave a gaping hole in the racing game, let’s hope one of his sons emulates him.”

SUNDAY TRIBUNE