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‘Tighter’ racing a challenge for South African hoop

“Tighter” racing and an occasional lack of speed – particularly in staying events – are among the major differences South African jockey Karl Zechner has noted since arriving in Australia six months ago.

Zechner rode his first city winner at Morphettville last Saturday, and backed it up with another at Strathalbyn on Wednesday, as he gradually starts to make a name for himself on the South Australian scene.

The 32-year-old has winners at the top level in South Africa, but has been forced to start from scratch since relocating to Australia late last year, after his wife was held up at gunpoint for a second time.

Zechner admits he has found the on-track adjustments challenging, notably the constricted spaces and sluggish race speeds.

“We race a little bit differently back home,” he said.

“We’ve got a false (cutaway) rail, so things map out a little bit easier. You can still get a horse home, even though you’ve missed the kick, because you can always make up ground at the top of the straight.

“Here, it’s a little bit different. I think it is a little bit tighter here.”

Zechner admitted adjusting to the “slower tempos” and additional mid-race shuffling was also difficult.

“It certainly took a bit of time to get used to,” he said.

“There are more movements during the race here. You’ll often find three or four movements happening, whereas back home after a furlong everyone’s got their positions and it seems to stay like that until the straight.

“And here, one or two races might end up lacking a bit of pace over the ground, and that’s probably why you find a lot more movement during races.”

For all his early mornings and hard work over the past six months, Zechner has just five Australian winners to show for his troubles, although two have come in the past seven days.

“Yeah I’ve done a lot of kilometres, trying to get my name out there,” he said.

“I knew it was going to be hard, but I think it’s been a little bit harder than I thought.

“Hopefully the win last Saturday will get the ball rolling, but time will tell.”

Zechner recently signed up with jockey manager Nadia Horne, who said the Zimbabwean-born hoop came with good credentials.

“He’s hard working and from the reports I got to start off with… I was told he’s an exceptional rider and that he would go really well in Adelaide,” she said.

“That’s why I took him on. He’s just taken a bit of time to adapt his style to our way of racing, but he’s learning all the time about the tactics of our races, which are obviously a lot different to what they are back where he comes from.

“He’s ridden Group 1 winners and derby winners over there, so he’s very well-known over there. He just didn’t have the international experience.

“But the horses seem to respond a bit for him, which is positive. He’s started to hit his straps… and a few more stables are putting him on.”

As has been widely reported this week, Zechner’s wife Lauren had a gun held to her head, while she was holding the couple’s young son just before Christmas 2019. It was the final straw for Zechner, who made the decision to relocate to South Australia.

Zechner has two scheduled rides at Morphettville today: Magic Phantom in race five and Canidae in race nine.

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