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Thu Apr 24 23:41:22 SAST 2014

Win child's play for Piere

Mike Moon | 13 July, 2012 06:340 Comments

THE jockey's eyes moistened as he rode the colt into the winner's enclosure after the Durban July on Saturday.

The tears surprised our hero.

"We didn't really expect to win with Pomodoro, so it wasn't because of that," he told me.

"I didn't have butterflies beforehand, like often [happens] at the July. I was relaxed because I thought we were well held by the favourite, Jackson."

Also, it wasn't a new experience - he'd won South Africa's greatest race twice before.

And Piere "Striker" Strydom is no big girl's blouse. He's battle hardened in a tough job. The work is perilous and those characters he calls colleagues don't take prisoners. No, the blubbing was all down to a baby. A little oke called Oliver, four months old on July day.

When the great jockey spotted his first-born among the cheering crowd, well, the pride of being dad bringing home the bacon - a helluva big slice of it - got those tear ducts going.

"I'm 46 now and to have your first kid at this age is quite something."

Oliver might be the youngest person ever to attend a July. It was also a first July for Piere's girlfriend and Oliver's mum, Claudia Shackleford.

Striker has been a quality rider since he was a lad growing up in a racing family in Port Elizabeth.

He's won the jockey championship several times and excelled abroad, unforgettably in the Hong Kong Sprint aboard JJ the Jet Plane.

But lately the blond bomber has been riding as well as ever. Far from ebbing with age, the sense of pace and timing seems sharper.

Piere jokes about the hefty financial demands of nappies and dummies driving him to succeed, but clearly it's the pure joys of fatherhood that have brought new vibrancy in the irons.

It was all on display on Saturday, when he got the 28/1 chance Pomodoro home from the widest starting stall in one of the greatest rides in the July's 115-year history.

Piere says the No20 draw - usually the kiss of death - might even have worked in his favour.

"Pomodoro doesn't have much gate speed so, with an inside draw, we might have been passed early and got boxed in near the back," he explained.

As it was, he stayed wide for the first 600m straight gallop before slowly working his way into the driving seat by the final bend, with Jackson and others pocketed behind him, unable to move without his say-so. Other jockeys requested the nice Mr Strydom to please move aside. He politely declined.

When he did move, he "got first run". On fast ground, they had to go to catch him.

First Chesalon, then Smajemanje, actually did head Pomodoro in the run-in.

"But I'd only used up 98% of my horse and still had 2% in reserve. That's what I used to get his nose in front on the line," explained Striker.

Child's play.

Mercury Sprint (Clairwood, tomorrow): 10 Delago Deluxe, 6 Winking Jack, 11 Midnight Serenade, 5 Copper Parade

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