100 Winners for Kuda's Mbhele
When Sandile Mbhele jumped off Do Angels Cry and headed to the weigh-in area after winning the seventh race at Durbanville on Tuesday there was a noticeable extra spring in his step. And a beaming smile from ear to ear, despite the gloomy weather that had descended on the region throughout the day.
He knew what the win represented. It was a significant milestone in the career of the Kuda-sponsored rider who has had his fair share of ups and downs along the way. The win, for the Candice Bass-Robinson stable, was only his third of the 2021/22 season, but more significantly, the 100th of his career.
It has been a long-time coming, figuratively and literally for the 23-year-old who had a tough upbringing in the Clairwood area of Durban. “I’ve been struggling to get rides lately,” he said while reflecting on his milestone win. “It’s hard to stay riding fit when you aren’t picking up rides. It hasn’t been helped by small fields in the Cape and also only four meetings in the month of March in the region.
“I have been riding some work for Bass Racing and when Keagen De Melo wasn’t available to ride Do Angels Cry today (Tuesday) she offered me the pick-up mount. I jumped at the chance and am thankful to her for the chance. It was quite a rough race despite the small field, but my filly fought gamely in the finish.”
Things have been tough for Mbhele for much of his life. He recalled in 2018, that “life from my Grade 8 year was a nightmare and a rude awakening. There was no discipline at my school. No facilities for sport or anything else. No control. Open flaunting of drugs. We never did homework. Results were a joke. It was cool to get 24 percent for maths. We bunked and would then hide away from the police and the army, who would try and take us back to class. Most of us were headed nowhere very fast and education and career weren’t words in our dictionaries. In fact, we had no dictionaries – very few text books at all.”
Fate intervened and he was recruited by the SA Jockey Academy where his life got back on track. And it was on 21 December 2016 when he rode his first winner on Kingsview.
“I will always remember the day. The win was an early unplanned Christmas present and I was thrilled as the trainer Ms Mitchley had given me so much opportunity and encouragement. I was drawn 13 out of 13 over the Scottsville 1200m and I drifted from the outside to the inside and had to survive an objection to keep the race. But, I won again on her two rides later, over the same course and distance.”
There have now been 99 further winners to bring up the career milestone 100. However, he’s had more than his share of misfortune, with at least two serious falls pulling the handbrake on his progression.
Mbhele had two bad falls within the space of five months from August 2020 to January 2021 when it was first August Leaves who dislodged him and then My Bestie came down in January’s Politician Stakes, which prevented the jockey from having his first Cape Town Met ride on Silver Operator a few races later.
It was a fall which sent him into hospital with concussion and head injuries and another stretch of recovery.
Reflecting on his 100 wins so far, Mbhele highlights three of them. “They say you never forget your first so Kingsview will always be there in my top three. Mercurana, who won the 2020 Kenilworth Cup over 3200m is probably my favourite ride. He was the rank outsider at 45-1 and I dropped him out and came from behind. I had to squeeze through the smallest gap between runners in a tight finish and I got my mount up to win.
“Then, winning on Vikram for Mrs Plattner in the Cape Merchants was so exciting. I had been riding work for Mr Nel so I’m grateful he gave me the chance – even though he started at 50-1. It was a significant win for me in that I’ve won four Listed races, but this was my first graded win and it was a Grade Two.”
Going forward the talented rider is simply hoping to be able to get more rides. “Riding and winning breeds confidence. I feel like I’ve got plenty to offer and I’m in a good head space and can ride 53kg.”
When not working or racing, Mbhele still likes to follow the fortunes of Manchester City. “I’ve supported them since my SAJA days, so it’s not an overnight thing. “We used to play this Fifa game amongst ourselves and I was always Man City. So, it’s stuck and I’m happy to say that I’m on the blue side of Manchester!