By Hans Ebert

He’s the quiet achiever. Grant van Niekerk. If there’s a fault in that, it’s about being too quiet. Almost, being the reluctant hero.

Especially in what could be termed “the new Hong Kong” and a world often paying way too much time wondering about their “stats” on social media, there’s often the need to market one’s self in the real world. In the extremely competitive world of Hong Kong racing where one is only as strong as that last winner.

Joao Moreira is a genius at this. Everything he says and does is a sound bite and photo opp. As for Grant van Niekerk, to date, he has ridden seventeen winners. Seventeen. Who knew? And he’s in the top ten in the Hong Kong Jockey Premiership in his first season here.

For someone who arrived in Hong Kong from South Africa with a question mark over his head and with very few knowing anything about him and what he achieved in his home country- and not caring about these either, like Richard Fourie and Karis Teetan before him, he hit the ground running.

While his two countrymen introduced themselves to Hong Kong racing fans by riding a winner at their very first ride here, Grant van Niekerk doubled that feat.

He rode the season’s first winner of the day on outsider Triumphant Jewel for rookie trainer Jimmy Ting- firsts for both jockey and trainer.

He bookended the meeting by winning aboard World Record for South African trainer Tony Millard.

Apparently not the easiest person for whom to ride, that win prompted “Millie”, a damn fine trainer, something that often gets lost amongst the rumours of him being “difficult”, to describe van Niekerk as “cool”.

Some had to be picked off the floor hearing that. It’s as unusual as seeing the other South African trainer here-David “Darth” Ferraris- smiling. Cameras have broken capturing those extremely rare moments.

“Cool” or not, what’s obvious after spending some time with Brand GVN is his work ethic. He’s here for the long run and out there making himself known and not shy to ask a trainer whether a ride being offered had any chance of winning. Even if the answer is no, and if he didn’t have a ride in the same race, he’ll ride it. There might be winner waiting around the corner. Coming towards the rear of the field might not look good for any rider, but It’s better than sitting in the jockeys room watching races being run and won.

Of course, everything that’s been expected has been written about the young rider. How he’s been this season’s surprise packet. His commitment to Hong Kong racing. How he’s here for the long run. How he understands it’s not going to be any stroll in the park. How much it means to have his partner and their two young children here. It’s the most important support system to him. After all, there’s nothing like emotional support.

There was then that reported “friction” with Zac Purton, ironically, someone he describes as a brilliant jockey and nice guy. But as we’ve come to expect with most things to do with the champion Australian jockey, whatever it was spilled over onto that often strange world known as Twitter.

Zac is the Kanye West of horse racing. Sometimes, one thinks he should be called Yeezy. Or Zacy.

Zac is Zac and that’s how it is and he’s good for the game because of his unpredictability. Even on Twitter.

The “friction” between the two has been smoothed out with a handshake. Who knows when “Zacy” will have another Kanye Moment.

If, however, this is aimed at Grant van Niekerk, well, the South African rider is no pushover. And anyway, far more important for him is succeeding by riding winners.

He’s already won over Frankie Lor, a champion trainer in waiting, and who has the confidence to provide van Niekerk with some very good rides including the highly promising Big Party.

How this partnership develops and where it leads is something that’s going to be interesting to follow…

Soon, another very good young rider will be part of the Hong Kong riding ranks- Regan Bayliss from Australia.

Just as the great Basil Marcus who ruled Hong Kong racing for seven seasons before the Douglas Whyte Years shared his experience with Grant van Niekerk, Regan Bayliss will arrive after being thoroughly prepped about what awaits him here from trainer David Hayes, one of the most successful trainers in Hong Kong with a number of local owners supporting his operations in Melbourne.

One is sure that the South African rider will be more than ready for any competition that comes his way.

Conquering the tight, idiosyncratic Happy Valley racecourse has no doubt improved him as a rider. So has riding against three of the best riders in the world on a regular basis in Joao Moreira, Silvestre de Sousa and Zac “Yeezy” Purton.

He’s also riding against those international riders who make frequent flying visits to Hong Kong.

Taking all this as new challenges and never being intimidated and also never being the first one to blink, there’s something of an X factor about Grant van Niekerk. Give him time. Like around two months. He’s most definitely NOT going into the Also Ran category. Just watch.

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