The jockeys SA forgot
They call it a craft, but the best exponents are real artists.
Jockeyship is a job like no other. It's thrilling, dangerous and unpredictable if you're in the irons, and a marvel if you're in the grandstand.
The balance between winning and losing, hero and zero, elation and the agony of broken bones rests on a proverbial knife edge.
Like a Zen calligrapher, a jockey must show assertiveness, intuitive timing and boundless bravery.
This arcane artistry will be on display tonight at Turffontein as battle is commenced in the annual International Jockeys' Challenge.
South African maestro Anton Marcus leads the six-man team of locals against an outfit skippered by new British champ Richard Hughes.
Of course, riding excellence is no novelty to us in this country. From Cocky Feldman to Michael Roberts to Basil Marcus to Dougie Whyte, we've produced generations of little big men more than capable of holding their own on the world racing stage.
It must be something in the water - or the lettuce.
Though we watch good riding day-in-day-out, it's still exciting to see the home-grown talent pit itself against worthy opposition from abroad.
The image of jockeys has been tarnished recently.
Aussie ace Damien Oliver is in hot water Down Under for illegal betting, while European superstar Frankie Dettori had a positive drug test in France and faces a lengthy ban.
Both these guys have ridden in the International Jockeys' Challenge in previous years, so a bit of a shadow is cast across the event, not to mention the profession.
Most racegoers will also be disappointed that the South Africans will not be awarded Protea colours for their participation, as earlier teams were.
Racing's suits appear to have got themselves into an unholy admin mix-up with Sascoc, the paper-shuffling body that authorises national colours. This has, in turn, sparked an unseemly public row within the industry.
The upshot is that the South African team will race in their horses' owners' silks while, weirdly, the visitors will be decked out in their national colours. Racing aficionados will hope that the real action tonight, and at the second Challenge leg on Sunday at Clairwood, will blow away all this blight and remind us of the game's glories.
Each leg has four races, all handicaps. Jockeys and teams get 30 points for a win, 15 for a second place, 12 for third, and so on, down to one for 12th.
Horses in each race were seeded and mounts chosen by ballot.
Marcus's team-mates are Jeff Lloyd, who flies in from his new base in Australia; Gavin Lerena; Piere Strydom; Anthony Delpech, and Muzi Yeni.
The internationals are Hughes, who sensationally rode seven winners in a day as he closed on the British Championship last month; Jimmy Fortune; Tom Queally; Seamie Heffernan; Paul Mulrennan, and Joao Moreira.
Heard the one about the six South Africans, five Irishmen and a Brazilian?
TURFFONTEIN TONIGHT: PA - 6,10 x 3 x 2 x 2,3,10 x 6,7,11 x 1,4,12 x 2,12 (R108)