The narrow win by Whispered in a Maiden 2YO event at Wyong on Saturday was of special significance to jockey Keagan Latham. It was his second win for the powerful Godolphin operation in the space of two weeks, and a milestone 50th win in NSW for the current season.
It’s been an amazing turnaround for the expatriate South African who, just three years ago was struggling to build a career in England. “I had no stable connection in the UK and freelancing was a tough grind”, recalled Latham. “I was battling to find rides and winners were very few and far between. I was very close to giving it all away”.
Keagan Latham is yet another product of the world renowned jockey’s academy in Durban (SAJA), only thirty minutes from his hometown of Kloof. “The academy has a wonderful system and offers tremendous tutorship and instruction on all aspects of racing’, said Keagan. “Look at some of the jockeys to come through the academy. Jeff Lloyd, Glyn Schofield, Basil Marcus, Douglas Whyte and Robbie Fradd just to name a few”.
Young Latham began his apprenticeship with trainer Duncan Howells who provided the youngster with his first winner, Rebel Patriot at Scottsville in 2005.
An opportunity came up to transfer his indentureship to the legendary trainer Mike De Kock, who had more than 100 horses in work between his two stables in Durban and Johannesburg. “Mr. Howells very graciously allowed me to change stables and it gave me a tremendous kick along”, recalled the jockey.
It’s well documented that Mike De Kock has been a great supporter of apprentice jockeys who’ve come through his training operation. “He gave me many opportunities which brought me under the notice of other trainers said Keagan. “I rode almost 100 winners in South Africa , including a Group 2 and a Group 3. To win the Gold Vase on Wise Son at the famous Durban July meeting was a career highlight”.
Towards the end of his apprenticeship, young Latham’s urge to see the world saw him grab an opportunity in Dubai. With Mike De Kock’s blessing he took a short term contract with trainer Herman Brown in the UAE, which resulted in several wins including the President’s Cup - a race for purebred Arabian horses but classed as a legitimate Group 1.
During his Dubai stint he came under the watchful eye of champion Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh who suggested the South African should look seriously at an opportunity in Ireland. John put him in touch with trainer Ger Lyons at a place called Trim in County Meath and before he knew it he was riding in Ireland.
“I had four wonderful seasons there, riding 130 winners, forty four in one season. I even slipped over to England to win the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock Park on the brilliant Sole Power trained by Edward Lynam. I also got to ride that horse unsuccessfully in France and Hong Kong, but they were two great experiences”.
A short stint in Mauritius followed the Irish adventure and then it was back to South Africa while he planned his future. He felt his success in Ireland and the Group 2 win at Haydock Park, might just springboard him into a career in England.
As mentioned earlier he was ready to relinquish his licence when a certain young lady offered the encouragement he needed. By this stage of his life Keagan had met Nancy Ashcroft, a charming girl from South Yorkshire who’d become intensely interested in his riding career. “It was Nancy who suggested we should try Australia. She knew about the healthy state of the industry here”, said the jockey.
Congratulations are in order as Keagan and Nancy will take a short break to “tie the knot” in September.
It’s not hard to imagine how intimidating it must have been for the young South African on the first morning he turned up at Randwick offering to ride work for random trainers. “The only one I recognized was Gai Waterhouse. I introduced myself and she quickly had me on a horse”, recalled Keagan.
“By the end of the trackwork session she had appointed me an official work rider. She didn’t have a clue I was a professional jockey and I wasn’t about to worry her with it”.
It just so happened that Gai had a staff member at the time who’d seen Keagan ride a number of winners in Ireland. “A few weeks later she calmly told me I could ride a filly called Savapinski in a 1200 metres Maiden at Newcastle”, said Latham. “It was a huge thrill to get her home in a tight finish. I rode a few other winners for Gai and Adrian, which resulted in more outside rides. Two other trainers who gave me tremendous support were Paul Perry and Gwenda Markwell”.
Keagan has been “chipping away” diligently ever since. He has established a solid support base on country and provincial tracks as evidenced by a haul of fourteen winners in three and a half weeks, as this story goes onto the website.
At the invitation of Richard and Michael Freedman, Keagan is riding work two mornings a week at Rosehill. He drives to Kembla Grange every Wednesday morning to assist Gwenda Markwell in track gallops and jump outs. He’s often to be found at Warwick Farm, close to his Chipping Norton home. The fitness conscious jockey tries to squeeze in at least one gym session every week.
He could be having the occasional Saturday ride in the city, but prefers to look after those clients who need him at the corresponding provincial meeting.
Two and a half years after arriving in Sydney, K.Latham is universally regarded as a pretty serious jockey. He’s at his best at 55kgs, he’s “barrier smart”, very strong and vigorous, and puts horses into the race when the time’s right. Here is a jockey who’s ridden in eight countries posting a total of 450 winners, 100 of them in NSW.
As the sun sets on the career of his countryman Jeff Lloyd, thirty one year old Keagan Latham can look forward to a productive life in the burgeoning Australian racing industry.
You’ve only got to look at the ever increasing list of stables seeking his services, to realise that the South African’s talents are now officially under notice.
(Banner image courtesy Bradley Photographers - Keagan's second win in the Goldolphin colours - Whispered wins at Wyong 13/07/2019.)