Lyle Hewitson was glad to get the monkey off his back on Tuesday at the Vaal when passing the record number of winners for an apprentice.
Ironically the 285th winner of his professional career, on the Sean Tarry-trained Shenanigans, was recorded exactly two years to the day after he made his professional debut.
He said he had not been under any pressure, but with so much media focus on the record he had wanted to get it over with and kick on.
He certainly got Shenanigans to kick on as the Dynasty colt swept through to win going away and thus convert 16/10 favouritism.
Fittingly, Gavin Lerena, the previous holder of the apprentice record, later opened the champagne bottle for the celebrations.
Hewitson is currently in second place on the National Jockeys log on 88 winners, 33 behind the title holder Anthony Delpech, and is 52 winners clear of Ashton Arries in his defence of the Apprentice Championship.
He said, Mr Delpech receives unbelievable support around the country and realistically it is not possible to catch him. But I am proud of what I have done so far this season and want to maintain my spot near the top of the log and retain the Apprentice Championships.
He added one of his remaining goals for the season is to win his first Grade 1 race.
He said of his goals for next season, For the first five months of the season I aim to just enjoy my racing and you then see where you are before deciding whether to give it a full bash.
One of his long term ambitions is to ride overseas.
Hewitson organises his own rides and is well supported. In Johannesburg he rides for reigning national champion trainer Sean Tarry, as well as Mike Azzie and Gary Alexander and in Port Elizabeth he is stable jockey to Yvette Bremner. He sometimes rides in KZN and in big meetings in Cape Town, and in the odd meeting in Kimberley. His 88 wins this season include 48 on the Highveld, 31 in PE, four in KZN, three in Cape Town and two in Kimberley.
Hewitson plans each race he rides in meticulously. He said, When I study the form it is firstly about working out how much pace there is going to be and how to run my horse in comparison, so I might want to be further back if there is a lot of speed and handier in a race which lacks pace. I then plan my race in relation to the horses I need to beat.
Hewitson is acutely aware of all the horses around him in a race, especially the main dangers, and which ones he would or would not want to be following. As Michael Roberts once said, bad luck in a race is usually just a lack of homework.
Hewitson continued, The most important phase of the race is from the start until the 400m mark. It is all about the process of relaxing your horse, being in the right position and travelling well. If you get to the 400m mark the way you planned to, then your horse will win if it is good enough.
He said his strength at this stage lay in being an all rounder, but added, it is all related to what quality of horse you are able to get on to.
A good horse makes you look good, he said.
Jockey skills and presenting oneself well are a vital coupling in order to get on to those good horses and Hewitson, who matriculated with five As at Kearsney College, has them both.
However, he said in this sport one never stopped learning and through natural progression believed he would continue to make minor improvements in all areas.
When Gavin Lerena rode Rock Blast to victory at Turffontein on 12 May, 2007, he broke the record of 260 winners for an apprentice which had been set by the legendary Michael Roberts more than thirty years earlier.
Roberts said at the time of Lerena, He is a good kid with a bright future and added he liked the fact that he was both very patient and very consistent. He proved to be correct as Lerena went on to become a National Champion Jockey and has ridden many Grade 1 winners and has also excelled in Jockey Challenge events in both Hong Kong and England.
Roberts said of Hewitson this week, Ive watched Lyle from the days he rode in workrider races. He rides with his head and by the time he became an apprentice he was so much more advanced than the other apprentices. His success has come as no surprise. From early on you could see he was going to make it. Hes a good kid and he has very good grounding. He will definitely be a champion jockey, thats written all over him. He conducts himself well and hes very presentable.
Hewitson rode 23 winners as a workrider and also won the Workriders Challenge Series on the Highveld. He is the son of UK-born former jockey Carl Hewitson, who is these days the assistant trainer to Yvette Bremner. Lyle used to canter Bremners horses when visiting his father on school holidays and he then began workriding at Summerveld after befriending Anthony Delpechs son at Kearsney College in Grade 8.
He was thus an accomplished rider by the time he arrived at the Academy and had a head start.
Lerena reportedly took 3,326 rides to reach his record while Nooresh Juglall, who rode 248 winners as an apprentice, took 3,237 rides. Hewitsons 285th winner came in his 2,653rd ride. The exact statistics on Roberts performance are not available.
Lerena had to wait until after his apprenticeship to record his first Grade 1 winner on Kings Gambit in the SA Classic in April 2008 and he rode the same horse to victory in the SA Derby a month later. – Gold Circle