Racing: Lloyd strives to make his name: Richard Edmondson on the latest champion jockey from South Africa to test his ability against Britain's finest riders

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The Independent Online
HE HAS read the books and seen the movies. Now Jeff Lloyd, South Africa's champion jockey, is trying our racecourses.

Since his family moved from Essex to the Republic 20 years ago, Lloyd has let little of Britain's racing scene pass him by and, after a decade as a leading rider overseas, he has returned to put his knowledge to the test.

'In all the time I've been in South Africa I've always kept up with racing all over the world,' he says. 'Getting racing videos from America, France and England, but mainly England. It's been part of my life following the racing here.

'I've got a lot of books on racing and horses that I've always looked at, and I got to the stage where I thought it would be a waste to keep studying and then not get off my backside and do something about it.'

The research does not appear to have been in vain. Since his arrival on these shores to join Richard Hannon's stable a week ago, Lloyd has ridden two winners from four mounts to suggest he will make a similar impact to those other svelte men from the veld, Michael Roberts, Felix Coetzee and Basil Marcus.

Unlike his predecessors, however, Lloyd's journey to Britain is more a return than an adventure. Born Jeffrey Bernard Lloyd in London 30 years ago, a career in racing was perhaps inevitable, even though there is no family connection with the sport.

'I was interested in racing as a young boy, from about the age of six, and I've always wanted to be involved,' he says. 'I still remember watching Lester Piggott and Nijinsky before we emigrated.'

The accent may soon have changed but Lloyd's determination to be a jockey never wavered and as a teenager he was enrolled into the academy that all young South African riders must attend, the Summerveld Training Centre in Durban.

This five-year apprenticeship, which takes in all aspects of the sport as well as schooling, is remembered by many in the manner of national service: a constricting regime which is considered of increasing value as the years roll by.

'You can't leave the academy, it's like boarding school,' Roberts, who is well on his way to a first jockeys' championship in Britain, says. 'The apprenticeship covers all aspects of racing but most of all it helps develop your character.

'One of the big things is that you get disciplined, and you don't come out of there with a swollen head because they put you down quickly. It's a very good system. A proven system.

'I've seen Jeff grow up in South Africa through his apprenticeship and he's become a very good pilot and a very intelligent rider. His main strength is that he'll decide what he's going to do as soon as he leaves the stalls, whether to drop in or make the running in the first 100 yards. He's not the sort of chap who rides the same way all the time.'

But Lloyd does seem to ride winners all the time. Champion jockey in South Africa for the fifth time this year, his latest tally of 313 successes took him over 2,000 career victories and established a record for a single campaign in the Republic.

'It was a snowball year for me,' he says. 'The more I rode the more trainers wanted to use me and I got better rides.'

With this pedigree it was perhaps predictable that Lloyd should make a swift impact here. The 30-year-old has recorded many victories at Newmarket, the course at Alberton in the Transvaal, but none could compare with the one he achieved at Suffolk's Newmarket on Friday evening on Kaloochi, his first mount in Britain.

'That was quite a surprise, I can tell you,' he says. 'It felt different because there are a lot more hills on that track than I'm used to, up and down all the time. I wasn't quite sure when to get a move on and I just had to rely on my instincts.'

As he joins the string on Hannon's gallops at Marlborough in Wiltshire, putting animals such as Assessor and Pips Pride through their morning paces, Lloyd has been touched by a surreal experience.

'It's funny riding work on horses that I was watching on video not long ago,' he says. 'It just seems strange that you watch horses on film one day and the next you're on their backs.'

But an early taste of success has jerked Lloyd into the realisation that Britain may provide his long- term future. 'I came originally with the idea of just enjoying myself, riding against people I've admired for so long, like the Edderys, the Cauthens and Piggotts. I thought just riding against them and seeing them on a horse I could learn a bit more and now that it's started off nicely I'm thinking a bit more.

'You can't make decisions on just a few rides and I'll only think ahead after my six weeks here and after I've talked with Mr Hannon. But I am enjoying it. It's even better than I thought it would be.'

(Photograph omitted)