Lyle Hewitson - Spreading his Wings
He’s only 23 but heading for his third national jockeys title and is taking his brand to other parts of the world. By Gary Lemke
Every now and then the sporting gods look down from above and sprinkle a little more stardust on to someone who catches their eye. They don’t anoint too often, they leave that up to us mere mortals to proclaim the next big thing, and the fullness of time often proves us wrong.
With Lyle Hewitson you know that the sporting gods have got it right, again. The 23-year-old is already a two-time South African champion jockey and is odds-on to acquire a third national title this 2020-21 season. And, once that is mission accomplished, he’s set to pack his bags yet again and head for the Far East, where he had previous stints racing in Hong Kong and Japan.
In fact, it’s in the Land of the Rising Sun that the Lad of the Racing Son – young Lyle was born into a horseracing family – was treated like royalty after he’d endured a frustrating first season in Hong Kong.
Hans Ebert on www.fasttrack.hk wrote: ‘When Lyle Hewitson rode a winner at his first meeting in Nakayama at an all-dirt meeting, a loud cheer went off inside. It augured well for the rest of his three-month licence in Japan.
“Still, no one could have predicted everything that was to follow – becoming a media darling and very quickly being seen as an ‘idol’ jockey. Having worked the Japanese market during my time in the music industry, the infatuation with “idol” singers like Utada and “idol” bands was always something fascinating and intrinsically Japanese. It still is.
“Lyle Hewitson has this same marketability and ready-made Instagram popularity. We’re seeing it already. Where to next for him?”
For now though, it’s first things first. That third national jockeys title is in sight – the season ends on 31 July – adding to a CV which includes becoming the first jockey in nearly 60 years to win the championship while still an apprentice.
How did the journey to becoming a jockey begin?
I grew up in a ‘horsey’ family, with my dad being an ex-jockey, my mom involved with polocrosse and of course a bit of the racing side of things – so my love for horses came first. I started to play polocrosse at a young age and when I was about 11 took my first racehorse at the training tracks. I participated in Workrider’s [amateur] horse races from 2013 and had my mind set of becoming a jockey once I had matriculated at Kearsney College. So the journey began in 2016 when I was accepted into the South African Jockey Academy. It’s all led up to where I am today.
Take us through what a typical day entails
I wake up at 4.30am and make my way to the training tracks to be on my first horse by 5.30. I continue to train or ride out until about 8.45am. Then it is back home, shower and breakfast, possibly also a hot bath for 45 minutes to sweat in order to make weight, pack kit and head off to races. A race day is typically from about 12:30pm until 4:30pm, which includes roughly eight race rides. At the end of the day, I drive home, have dinner with my partner and relax. Then it’s time for bed and get ready to do it all over again the next day. This may vary, depending on travel to other provinces for race meetings, whereby I would fly in the morning instead of doing track work and then fly back home the same evening.
One assumes that domestic travelling is also quite hectic?
Yes, in my case I do travel a lot to different centres around the country to participate in races. Usually about three times a week. I prefer to travel early in the morning and back the same night, all in a day’s work.
Do you do workouts or does everyday riding work and racing keep you fit?
As a jockey one certainly does have to be fit. With my busy schedule I remain at peak fitness through everyday work riding and race riding. However, if returning from a break or a few days off from racing, I work out with either jogging — in sweat gear if I am needing to get my weight down — or HIIT training. I like to mix strength, but not heavy weights as such, and cardio together as we require both in our profession. I also do a bit of work on my equiciser/mechanical horse for muscle memory, practice and endurance
What sort of diet do you have to stick to?
During a busy week of riding and travelling, I try just to keep it healthy and portion controlled with no desperate requirements. Of course I have a cheat meal somewhere in between. If I’m not busy daily with race riding, my go-to is calorie counting in order to maintain weight the correct way.
Riding a horse is a precarious occupation. What are the worst injuries you’ve suffered?
It certainly is a dangerous job and injuries are a given, whether big or small. I have got away with minor injuries in many falls or tumbles, with my worst to date being a tear in my meniscus of my knee and a bone chip of the knee. I have also broken my collar bone and had concussion. However frustrating injuries are, I think we can be lucky sometimes that they aren’t worse.
Finding sponsorship in the world of sports isn’t easy. What sponsors do you have?
I am currently sponsored by Kuda Insurance. I think partnering with a sponsor is all about finding the right fit for both parties and being able to represent one another to benefit each other – the remuneration or benefits behind it is the bonus, but first and foremost is having the right image to back you. Being a professional with good character and manners as well as excelling to the best of your abilities in your job ensures you are sought-after by the brand you want behind you. I feel this is why Kuda and myself work well together.
Aside from your racing career, Kuda also covers your everyday needs. Any expensive “toys”?
I live in Bedfordview in a lovely humble apartment which I bought when I qualified as a jockey. I recently bought a VW T-Cross which I feel is a neat, comfortable and easy car which is perfectly suitable for my needs and wants. I also own a Ford Fiesta EcoBoost which I have lent to a family member since purchasing my T-Cross. Besides those, my racing kit is what I consider my “toys” that fall under my list of important things to insure.
What are some of the best horses that you have ridden in SA?
I have ridden some smart horses – but some of the horses on the shortlist would include Celtic Sea, Al Sahem, Legal Eagle, Cirillo, Africa Rising, Undercover Agent. I’m sure there are more top talents but my list would go on. I hope to find a superstar soon to go places with!
If you weren’t a jockey what would you be doing?
I wanted to become an equine veterinarian and be involved in racing through that side of things. I love the sport and the horses so much that I knew I wanted to be a part of it no matter which avenue it took. I wouldn’t change my career for the world though, it was always my No 1 to be a jockey.