Zackey eager to get back into the saddle

PUBLISHED: 22 August 2019

Craig Zackey

Top jockey Craig Zackey is out injured at present and will shortly be spending a week at South Africa’s champion stud farm, Mauritzfontein, where he hopes to be present to see his beloved Nother Russia foaling down.

Zackey had to have a double hip operation but the good news is this is not due to the hip wearing away, so he can still look forward to a long career.

He was found to have “massive cam lesions”. This refers to an abnormally shaped femoral head, which comes into abnormal contact with the edge of the hip socket, thus limiting the range of movement in the hip.

His femoral heads were duly shaved so they could sit in the sockets correctly.

Craig Zackey
Craig Zackey

However, it was subsequently discovered he had a labral tear in the cartilage of his right hip joint and had to have two pins inserted.

He had a bilateral hip arthroscopy on both hips and has been out for two weeks so far.

He expects to be out for at least another four weeks, although his comeback date will depend on the prognosis of the doctor.

Being on the sidelines has been particularly frustrating as he felt this season would have been the right one to “make a break and go for gold.” There are a number of jockeys on the sidelines and others have left for Hong Kong, so the national championship is there for the taking.

It is now going to be difficult, but his goal is still a top five finish.

The 24-year-old said, “I am still young so there will be a lot more opportunities. I have already ridden five Grade 1 winners and multiple Grade 2s and 3s, but the championship would be the cherry on the cake.”

Zackey’s five Grade 1 wins included two aboard Nother Russia and one each on Arabian Beat, Van Halen and Will Pays.

Nother Russia surpassed Slumdogmillionaire as the best he had ever ridden and he doubts there will ever be another horse closer to his heart.

He recounted, “She was temperamental and before she started racing nobody liked her, particularly as she was mad in the gates. I started working with Malan du Toit on her issues and something just told me to stick with her, so I was even prepared to go on Sundays to school her at the pens. When her owner and breeder Jessica Slack heard I had been working with her and showing her a lot of love she told me ‘This is your filly until the end of her career’ and there was no looking back after those inspiring words.”

The De Kock yard are also known for their loyalty to riders and Zackey duly rode her in all eighteen of her starts. She twice won the Grade 1 Empress Club Stakes over 1600m and also won the Grade 2 Ipi Tombe Stakes and the Grade 3 Acacia Handicap over that same Turffontein Standside course and distance. She ran four Grade 1 places too from 1600m to 2000m, three of them against the boys.

Nother Russia was the only foal of the late four-time Grade 1-winning stalwart Mother Russia. Zackey hopes to see the continuation of this legacy during his visit to Mauritzfontein as she is in foal to Querari and is due to foal down soon.

Zackey was a good soccer player at school. In Grade 7 he received an invitation to attend the Academy Of Excellence in Gauteng and at the age of 14 he was offered a trial at Orlando Pirates. 

He was aware of horseracing as his father and late grandfather always followed the sport and it soon became evident he was always going to be small in stature. 

When he went for an interview at Turffontein for the South African Jockeys Academy he learnt a lot about the sport and was now clear on what he wanted to do.

However, he did not realise just how focused he would be on this career path until arriving at The Academy.

“I loved every bit of it,” he said. “The Academy was like a dream come true.”  

Zackey was the National Champion Apprentice in the 2014/2015 season, riding 58 winners.

He blossomed from there and broke through the 100 mark the following season, riding 101 winners.

The following season in 2016/2017 he rode 138 winners for sixth on the national log and that remains his best season to date.

However, before his injury he was being supported by the like of Adam and Basil Marcus in Cape Town, Duncan Howells, Dennis Drier, Wendy Whitehead and Doug Campbell in his new home base of KZN and some top yards in Gauteng, so he is itching to get back.

By David Thiselton