In a dramatic development on Friday, Yeni was drafted in to replace fierce rival Lyle Hewitson, the reigning champion jockey.
In a dramatic development on Friday, Yeni was drafted in to replace fierce rival Lyle Hewitson, the reigning champion jockey who had originally been declared to ride the recent Daily News 2000 winner in the country’s biggest horse race.
Soma announced the change “due to unforeseen circumstances”.
Hewitson is now booked on another three-year-old colt, Shango, for champion trainer Sean Tarry, for whom he had been riding regularly since returning to the country from riding stints in Hong Kong and Japan.
Got The Greenlight is currently 7-1 third favourite for the July, while Shango languishes at 33-1.
“It has come to our attention that, due to unforeseen circumstances on jockey Lyle Hewitson’s side, he will not be able to honour his riding engagement aboard our horse in this year’s Vodacom Durban July,” said Soma in a statement.
“Lyle was originally secured to ride our Champion in the Vodacom Durban July when still riding in Japan in April 2020.
“All is not lost though as we have old friend Muzi Yeni on board, piloting Got The Greenlight. Muzi and our stable have had great success, including Grade 1s through the years,” added Soma.
“We hope that this doesn’t have major ramifications on the betting, but we felt that it was best to let the punters know the situation.”
Yeni narrowly lost out to Hewitson in a titanic battle for the 2018/19 national jockey championship – 219 winners to 216.
That fiercely competitive title chase boiled over on 27 July 2019, four days before the end of the season, in a race at Greyville – when, interestingly, Yeni was riding a horse called Mr Greenlight.
A National Horseracing Authority inquiry into the incident read:“Jockey M Yeni was charged with a contravention of Rule 72.1.11, in that whilst riding the horse Mr Greenlight, he intimidated and interfered with Jockey L Hewitson, when he took his hand off his left-side rein and placed it on Jockey Hewitson’s arm…
“Mr Yeni pleaded not guilty to the charge. The Inquiry Board found Mr Yeni guilty of the charge … [and] imposed a suspension from riding in races for a period of 90 (ninety) days.”
This whopping ban ruled Yeni out of a 2020 attempt to realise his burning ambition to claim the championship.
However, the rider bounced back to his cheerful, ebullient best once his justified three-months punishment was over.
Riding busily around the country (though not since lockdown), Yeni has clocked 76 winners to rank eighth on the title log – which runaway leader Warren Kennedy tops with 202.
Soma’s reference to a successful Grade 1 association with Yeni dates back to 2011, when they combined with 55-1 shot HappyLanding to land the Premier’s Champions Challenge at Turffontein – the first of the rider’s six victories at the highest level.
Yeni hails from Umlazi, a sprawling settlement outside Durban, so it would be a homecoming of note if he were to triumph in the July on 25 July – at Greyville, nonetheless, scene of that ignominious incident last year.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.