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Trailblazing jockey is first black man to win historic race

WINNER: S'manga Khumalo is the first black jockey to win the Vodacom Durban July

HISTORY HAS been made in South African horse racing after the first black jockey won the continent’s biggest race.

S'manga Khumalo has become the rising star of the sport and cemented his position as a rider to be feared by his rivals as he claimed victory in the historic and prestigious Vodacom Durban July, the country’s richest race.

He won 3.5m (£232,729) as prize money for claiming top spot last month, his first attempt, and crucially the recognition and ability to inspire others to take up a sport that seemed exclusively white.

“It was a feeling that I will never trade for anything for as long as I live”, the 28-year-old jockey told the Guardian.

“Being my first time in it, as I crossed the finish I had electricity and a crowd of 50,000 people screaming and shouting. I was electrified. I promise you, if I had wings I would fly. It's every jockey's dream and every jockey's goal to win that race.

“As I came to the number one box down at the grandstand, my mum was there in front. She was screaming and thanking all the people that made it possible and also looking back to her family and to our ancestors. She was thanking all of them, from the grandmother and great-grandmother, because they watch over us, they're like our guiding angels. She was overwhelmed and happy.”

Khumalo weighs only 52.5kg and is 154cm tall, he was bullied at school for his slight stature and found it difficult to participate in usual school sports like football and rugby.

But when he was 14 or 15, he said, a talent scout came to his school looking to find potential jockeys. “I had all the features: the body build, the shoe size and the height”, he explained, and he was accepted which led to him joining the Durban jockey academy in 2000.

Asked about his experiences of competing in a sport where there are few black faces and if he has experienced racism, he said: “People are not the same. There are some people who will take you in and there are some people who will always have negativity. But I'm not the type of guy who looks back, I just keep my cool and just do my work.”

Talking further about his achievement in the sport, and its impact on any aspiring jockeys, Khumalo added: “They see, oh wow, dreams can come true. It's never been done. I don't think there were any black jockeys 117 years ago.

“When you look at racing, people are always serious about the game: you can't do this, you can't do that. But once I had my breakthrough and I had followers, there'll be guys that just come to a racecourse to watch me because they like the way I ride.”

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