Weichong’s applying the skills acquired from the best

Here’s an extract from the Cape Argus on June 26, 1989: ‘Weichong Marwing is no ordinary apprentice. His first attribute is his strength; he’s also shown himself to be a ‘thinking’ jockey, seldom being conned into compromising his mounts’ chances by accepting a false situation’.

Racing writer Graham Potter was singing Weichong’s praises after he’d won the Listed Champagne Stakes at the old Milnerton Racecourse in Cape Town on the grey Miss Averof, his 120th career winner and, at a tender 18, the start of his formidable association with master trainer Ormond Ferraris.

He landed another 3500 winners (and a 100+ G1s) in the roughly 25 years after that and forged similarly powerful partnerships with a number of the world’s top trainers, including long stints with Mike de Kock in South Africa and the late Ivan Allan and John Moore in Hong Kong. The list of top horses he rode to victory is long and illustrious and starts with Vigliotto, Rakeen, Tracy’s Element and Triple Crown winner Horse Chestnut in the 1990s to Olympic Express, Right Approach, Victory Moon, Asiatic Boy, Olympic Express, Irridesence, Viva Pataca and Dan Excel in the 2000s.

Among those, one of the most memorable was Weichong’s second G1 QEII Cup success in 2006 on Irridescence – a terrific front-running ride that came at the narrow expense of Best Gift (Eric St Martin) and superstar Ouija Board (Frankie Dettori) and brought him wide international recognition.

Riding at the top of his game and on the verge of his second G1 J&B Met win in 2016, Weichong started suffering severe back spasms. He received physiotherapy but to no avail. On the morning of the Met he could hardly move and had to give up his ride on Smart Call to JP van der Merwe – thereafter sidelined with back problems for the best part of 18 months. “I lost the ride on Smart Call and on another R1-million race winner that day. It was devastating and things went downhill from there.” 

Not long after his return in 2017, Weichong had a crashing fall and broke his leg when an injured horse came down underneath him at the Vaal. He took it on the chin once more, returned again in 2021 but his progress was again interrupted and this time he was forced to call time on his riding career.

SPINE-CHILLING! Irridescence (nearest camera), hangs on to win the 2006 QEII Cup from Best Gift and Ouija Board (obscured). 

Weichong tells: “When I broke my leg in the Vaal fall, the paramedics ran up to me and asked, ‘Is your neck okay?’ I was sitting up and feeling pain in my broken leg and felt fine otherwise, so they attended to my leg. There were no symptoms of anything else.

“The surgeon put plates in my leg and I had to wait a year for them to be removed. When my leg healed and I was out of pain, I noticed that I’d lost some muscle coordination. It was as if my arm, for example, responded slowly went I wanted to lift it and wave at someone. And I couldn’t walk straight for further than 100m. Obviously my riding was affected. Both my legs were fine, but they didn’t have the same power on a horse, something was wrong. And the same with my arms. There wasn’t much there. I rode a few winners, but today I’m wondering how I did that.

“I started feeling nauseous and dizzy and eventually visited a neurologist, who detected damage to my cerebellum (part at the back of the brain that controls movement). This came out of nowhere as a shock, but explained the symptoms I’d been suffering, including my loss of coordination of motor movements; sudden difficulty to perform rapid alternating movements, and my staggering when walking. The damage must have occurred when I hit my head in the fall at the Vaal, though there was no bleeding or other symptoms evident at the time.”

Weichong’s on medication now, his health has rapidly improved and his life is perfectly manageable again, but, sadly, his great riding career is over. There won’t be another return. At 52, he had to sit down and figure out what to do with himself. He tells: “I wanted to ride for another several years, but it is just not possible. I could’ve started a car sales business I guess, but what do I know abut cars? Or I could sit and watch TV all day since I can’t play golf anymore. So, I decided to take up training, against advice and, as everyone seems to say, ‘in a wrong time for racing’. But when is the right time to begin a career except right now?”

Things have started well, against the odds, and with just a dozen horses in his care. Weichong’s had a winner and four places, including a Gr2 second in the SA Fillies Nursery with Time For Glory, who was beaten by rising star, Maharanee.

“In any other season that may have been a quick G2 win for Time For Glory, but Maharanee looks special and owners Kevan Hunter, Gavin Jooste and I were over the moon with our second place. It gave me a shot of confidence and adrenaline. My string has grown to 20 with recent support from established owner Clive Barnard, who sent me five runners including the six-time winner ExpressfromtheUS, also runners from Chris Booysen and Jani Coetzee.

“But like all other new trainers I need support, I need more horses to work with to be competitive. I’m hoping that some of the major patrons I rode winners for around the world will reach out to help, one only needs a single top horse to kick-start your career and I believe I am capable of doing a good job.

“I spent the last 30 years in some of the world’s top racing stables. I watched them and I learnt from them. I’ve tried to employ bits of skill from everyone – Mr Ferraris, Messers Moore and Allen, Mike de Kock and others. I’ve asked for advice and everyone’s been forthcoming, recently Mr Ferraris, Mike, Gavin van Zyl and Tony Nassif. I am on my way now, and I know I can make it.”

Ormond Ferraris, the retired genius, agreed and said: “Weichong is a good little horseman. He’s always been that. He works very hard, he is dedicated and not shy to ask for help. I have already assisted him, I will continue to help and I have no doubt he will make it as a trainer.”  -IRC.

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