QUESTIONS À MARK NEISIUS, AUTEUR D’UN DOUBLÉ : I have never doubted myself

Après des semaines à broyer du noir, Mark Neisius commence à trouver la lumière au bout du tunnel. En effet, après Shield Of Thunder une semaine plus tôt, le Sud-Africain de naissance mais Mauricien par alliance, a ajouté deux autres victoires à son palmarès samedi dernier pour porter son score à cinq. Même si cela reste famélique pour un jockey avec autant de kilomètres au compteur, l’homme reste lucide et réaliste, car des périodes de vaches maigres, il en a connues durant sa carrière comme en 2014 qu’il a bouclé avec une toute petite victoire au compteur. Turf Magazine est allé à sa rencontre à l’issue de la journée de samedi et dans l’entretien qui suit, il nous parle de Raj Ramdin dont il dit qu’il est un fan et de la situation peu envieuse dans laquelle se trouve l’hippisme mauricien entre autres sujets abordés.

Mark, we are under the impression that it’s now that you are kick starting your season. It must be difficult for a jockey to go so many weeks without a win, isn’t it?
To be honest with you, I’ve never doubted myself. I’ve been in racing for too long to know that you need good horses to win races. With all due respect to Raj and his string of horses, we do not have great competitors at the stable. There are a lot of battlers and bleeders, but that didn’t stop us from coming to work every morning and try our best with what we’ve got. But like I said, I’ve never doubted myself. I’ve been riding for 25 years. I know the game, I know how it goes. I know if you got the right rides, you will win.

You say that the horses are so bad…
… No I’ve never said that the horses are bad. What I meant is that the horses we have at the stable have done their time. They’ve been here for so many seasons, they’ve been here longer than me! It’s hard to keep those horses in a sort of enthusiasm. Many of Raj’s horses have been here since 2011, some even before. We are now reaching the end of 2015 and we still have the same horses. It’s hard to compete with those yards which are buying top and young horses. I’m a big fan of Raj. I think he is a good trainer. He’s a good horseman. Unfortunately he doesn’t get many owners to support him.

What motivates you to come to work every morning then?
Probably because I have nothing else to do (laughs).

But you're telling us that Raj has not got a competitive string. There must be something else behind your motivation Mark Neisius?
Well, if you look at the string of horses we have, there is one, two may be three of them that can reward us provided we train them and guide them in the right way. Steel Of Approval is a perfect example. Look at how he won. He’s a horse with whom we have taken so much time to bring to his peak. When I cantered him to the pens, he looked like a three year old. All credit goes to Raj to keep a horse like this, sound and enthusiastic. It shows what kind of horseman he can be.

Did he surprise you the way he won?
If you look at his last two wins last year, that’s how he won. I think he is the kind of horse that if he relaxes well in front, he will give you a good kick. I think he is more than a 0-20 horse.

Last time you dropped him at the back contrary to his usual racing pattern. Can we know why?
It was a 1365m and he was drawn 10. There was a lot of quick horses in the field. I sat with Raj and I told him that we’ve now got limited avenues with this horse due to his age. Obviously we’ll ride him as he usually runs but if I see I won’t be able to get to the front, I will rather drop him in, rather than pushing him with the risk of going three-wide. You should have noticed that he didn’t disgrace that day as he ran on to finish fifth in a field that was outclassed by Jambamman.

The draw was in your favour this time but still there was Destiny’s Tale on your inside…
Obviously Destiny’s Tale was a big worry for me but he played up badly in the stalls just before the jump and I had a feeling that he could be slow. Anyway, I always had two plans in my mind, either jump faster than him and lead or if he’s quicker than me, to sit second. But when I saw him played up in the stalls and that he could be left behind, my intention was to bounce my horse and go.

With Ruby King, you showed to racegoers that you can also win a race from behind. Can you take us through that one?
I must say that out of the four horses I rode for Patrick and on whom I sat on Thursday morning, Ruby King was probably the one who sprinted up the best for me. Everything went my way in that race even if there were two horses that prevented me from having an outside run. It was a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to follow Scorecard who took me far in the straight.

It is being said that you’ll be Merven stable’s jockey for the rest of the season. Your reaction?  
(Un peu agacé) Well, you know Mauritius and rumours… I can tell you straightforwardly that they have approached me to ride their top weights because Rama is a light weight jockey and there are a lot of dead weight on the horses. To be honest with you, I’m quite happy to pick up a couple of rides with them. But I’m not their stable jockey by any means. Rama is actually doing a good job.

You were booked to ride Love Struck in the Maiden Cup some weeks ago. Are you disappointed he didn’t make it?
No, not at all. I think the crowd got a little bit of him on that day. I could feel he was nervous behind the gates. He jumped great but once I got him behind Vettel, he never dropped the bit and fought back on nearly 1000m. When I say drop the bit, I mean he literally was pulling my arms out. The fact that he ran second is a very good effort. Had he settled behind Vettel, he would have had a much better kick and in my opinion he would have won. But a horse cannot quicken after having pulled that hard over 2400m. People say that the distance was a little bit too far for him. I don’t share that view. It’s just that he pulled too hard on that day.

Mark, you have been riding in Mauritius for many years. Horse racing on the island is going through tough times and the future looks bleak. What’s your opinion on the matter?
All I can say is that there is indeed a big black cloud over racing in Mauritius and I think it’s high time for the powers that be, the MTC and all the stakeholders to sit down and come up with a plan. I can’t advise them because I’m only a jockey but something clearly has to be done. A lot of people are so negative about Mauritian racing at the moment. I think we should first of all work towards getting the public’s confidence back. People are fanatic about racing here, they love racing. I think if all stakeholders put their minds together, we can get out of this situation and put the horse racing industry in the right direction.

Do you think that the authorities are getting too much involved in horse racing in Mauritius?
I personally think so. They are making some kind of business decisions or political decisions instead of making decisions that are good for racing. The Mauritius Turf Club probably knows more about racing than the government but I don’t know if their hands are tied. One example is the foreign jockey issue. I know of some South African jockeys who simply refuse to come to ride in Mauritius fearing that if they get a suspension, they’ll end up in jail. Another example is the regulation which prescribes that a race should be scrapped if there are less than six runners. I can understand that when we are still at the nominees’ stage, if the prescribed number of runners has not been met, to scrap the race and split another. But once the card is official, you cannot scrap a race like that. I think the authorities do not realise how much time and money goes into preparing horses to get them ready for the race course. I’ve named only these two but I guess there are other issues which stakeholders of the horse racing industry have to look into.

There is also the acute problem of the number of horses which is decreasing week after week. What do you propose to remedy such a situation?
South Africa went through a similar situation some years ago where the bigger owners were dominating and the smaller ones battling to keep pace with them. I think if we could have syndicates, we will be going in the right direction. The syndicate could be a group of five to ten people. The advantage is that it reduces the cost of a horse considerably. Allow me to open a parenthesis to say that the prices people in South Africa are asking for horses are ridiculous. True, Mauritius needs horses but it’s not a reason to put up so much mark-up on them. Syndicates will also enable small stables to be competitive.

Don’t you think it’s high time for us to look for other markets to buy our horses?
I don’t know about the logistics but I believe financially it’s not worth it as horses from Europe, especially England and France, Australia or even New Zealand probably cost more. The exchange rate says it all. Buying horses from South Africa is to my mind more viable in the circumstances as the rand is very weak compared to the currencies of the other countries mentioned above.

Mark, one of the particularities of horse racing in Mauritius is its heavy reliance on betting. Do you share the view that it’s betting that has brought the industry at the crossroad it is today?
Be it in horse racing, or any other sports, betting has always been a problem. The question that needs to be asked is: why owners in Mauritius need to resort to betting? Simply because there is no stakesmoney here so to speak. Betting is the only way for them to recover part of their investment as the stakesmoney is insufficient. It’s as simple as that.

But you’ll agree that there some owners who can afford to buy horses and in some cases, quality horses, without the need to have recourse to betting to recover their investment…
How many are they? How many of them can do that? Look at the bottom stables, they don’t have owners who can say: ‘Well, you want this horse, or that horse, no problem, we’ll buy it’. And the problem here is that there is a big gap which is being created between the two or three top stables and the rest. If nothing is done, you’ll end up having only two or three stables competing in Mauritius.
You said earlier that you are a big fan of Raj Ramdin. Are you aware that his stable may not be part of the journey next year if he does not satisfy the conditions imposed by the MTC?
I do understand the stand of the MTC but is Raj really not good for the game? He still has his runners, he is still investing. You cannot kick him out just because he has not satisfied the conditions which have been imposed.

But it’s a fact that his yard is hardly competitive…
They didn’t want to be in that position, did they? I’m with Raj every day. He’s under much stress to have his 8 winners and his Rs 2M of stakesmoney. You know how much pressure there is on his shoulders? The thing is that for him to satisfy these conditions, he needs horses, he needs owners.

Anything you want to add to end up this interview Mark Neisius?
I wish people who have been in racing long enough to put their heads together and get a plan to get horse racing in Mauritius back on track. It won’t happen overnight but at least we would have given it a try. On a different note I would say that it is very unfortunate that politics is getting so involved in horse racing in Mauritius. One of the consequences is that for the second time in two seasons, we have lost a race we should never have lost. They are making decisions which are bad for racing.