The Kiwi riding ranks have benefitted from the addition of another expat South African jockey in Billy Jacobson, and the family-orientated hoop was thrilled to pick up his first winner on Kiwi soil at Pukekohe on Saturday.
Entrusted with the steer aboard the Michael Moroney and Pam Gerard-trained Lingjun Xiongfeng in the Ellerslie Events 1500, Jacobson allowed the grey entire to ease back in the 14-horse field from the extreme outside draw.
The pair remained at the tail throughout, while $6.00 second-favourite Amberite controlled proceedings.
Still with the entirety of the field ahead of him on the home corner, a no-panic display saw Jacobson edge the five-year-old out of a tight gap at the 350m, and once the pair found clear running, Lingjun Xiongfeng stormed home in the closing stages to catch Amberite by a head at the post.
“I’ve been here for about a month, so it was really nice to get the winner,” Jacobson said.
“I worked him during the week before his race, and I said to Pam (Gerard, co-trainer) that I thought he could win, he gave me a really good feel. She did say that he gives up quite easily, so I watched his tapes and saw that when he gets to the front she basically stops, so my plan was to win it on the line.
“She said ‘as long as you win it, that’s fine’, she gave me free reign pretty much, so I just sat him at the back, switched him off and came as late as I could. Luckily it worked out for me.”
The victory came in Jacobson’s 25th attempt on New Zealand soil, though he picked up a notable black-type second placing aboard Te Akau stalwart Prise De Fer in the Group 3 Eagle Technology Stakes (1600m) the weekend prior at Te Rapa.
Jacobson had been offered the ride aboard the Group 1-winning eight-year-old in last Saturday’s Group 1 TAB Classic (1600m) at Trentham, but after consulting with friend and agent Donovan Mansour, he maintained faith in Gerard’s charge and remained in the North.
“I’ve ridden work for Te Akau and I was very lucky to be offered the ride on him (Prise De Fer) for both races. It was a hard decision to turn the Group One ride down,” he said.
“But I felt like I made the right decision at the end of the day. It’s great to ride in a Group One, but I told Donovan how well the horse (Lingjun Xiongfeng) had been working and I thought he could win, so we opted to stay and go for the winner here.
“Prise De Fer ran a top race for me at Te Rapa, and I think he still has more in the tank, so I’d love to ride him again if the opportunity came.”
Originally hailing from Durban, Jacobson was the latest expat-South African to enter the jockeys room in New Zealand in early November, reconnecting with former close colleagues Mansour, and premiership leader Warren Kennedy.
The 43-year-old has based himself in Cambridge and was soon joined by wife Mel and their two young sons, the main motivation for his move.
“The main reason I’m here is for my kids. South Africa for a long time coming has been going backwards and doesn’t provide a future for them. New Zealand is a beautiful country and it’s the right place to bring them up,” Jacobson said.
“I got here a month earlier than the rest of my family and they are everything to me, so I battled a bit without them. But now they are here I’m doing much better.
“Everything in this country is completely different, both inside and outside of racing, so it’s going to take a bit of getting used to for all of us, but it’s been nice so far.”
Adapting to a new racing jurisdiction is nothing new for the well-travelled hoop, having ridden across the globe, including Dubai, France, Spain, Zimbabwe, and most recently, an eight-month stint in Mauritius in 2022.
He did note a difference in the race riding, as well as the style of training between New Zealand and his home nation.
“The trackwork in the morning and the way people train here is very different to South Africa. We don’t do timed work over there, so that was something I had to get used to but it’s great, I’m learning a lot more,” he said.
“I ride work at Matamata and Cambridge. I’ve been mainly riding at Matamata for Pam, Graham Richardson and Te Akau, then at Cambridge for Stephen Marsh, Andrew Forsman, John Bell and Shaune Ritchie.
“I’ve gotten nice support from their stables on raceday, and hopefully now I’ve got the winner, we can crack on and get a few more past the post. I think everyone’s a bit wary until you get a few winners, so hopefully now it picks up.
“I’ve come in when the season’s already started, so it would be cheeky and unrealistic of me to think I’d be able to catch someone like Warren.
“My main goal this season is to get myself established with a few stables to back me and then next season hoping to be competitive in the premiership. It’s good to have goals, and that would be something I want to aim for eventually.”