Kennedy cements his place in New Zealand racing

By Dennis Ryan

4 Jan 2023

Kennedy cements his place in New Zealand racingFormer champion South African jockey Warren Kennedy lands another big win on Aquacade in the Dunstan

After a whirlwind two months since arriving from his native South Africa, Warren Kennedy has every reason to state that his future belongs in New Zealand.
A Boxing Day hat-trick at Pukekohe headed by the Gr. 1 Zabeel Classic on Defibrillate was followed by another treble at Te Rapa on New Year’s Day comprising the Gr. 2 Auckland Guineas, Gr. 3 Queen Elizabeth ll Cup and Dunstan Feeds Stayers Final.
That form continued with a win in the first race at Tauranga the next day as Kennedy took his top-10 tally to 25 wins from 143 race rides, but a fall later on the same programme after his mount clipped heels meant a temporary halt to his trajectory.
Once he had dusted himself off and stood down from his remaining rides as well as his Matamata engagements on Tuesday, Kennedy’s positive approach was undented. “Unfortunately these things happen but nothing serious,” he said. “So a couple of days off to recover and I’ll be back into it.”
Off the back of a standout holiday carnival haul, 42-year-old Kennedy has plenty to look forward to in the weeks ahead. Defibrillate, the horse that gave him his first New Zealand Group One success, is being aimed by trainers Graham Richardson and Rogan Norvall at the country’s richest weight-for-age race, the $450,000 Herbie Dyke Stakes at Te Rapa in the second week of February.
Before that Kennedy’s Queen Elizabeth ll Cup winner Dionysus will take on the Wellington Cup, while the Roger James/Robert Wellwood-trained stablemate Prowess booked her Karaka Million 3YO ticket with a dominant win in the Auckland Guineas. There are also horses carrying the Cambridge Stud colours to consider, amongst them the Lance Noble-trained Aquacade, who qualified for the Auckland Cup by winning the Dunstan Stayers Final.
It’s no surprise that Kennedy, a natural lightweight, has quickly aligned himself with quality stables. He arrived in New Zealand in mid-October with an impressive CV – South African premiership wins in 2019-20 and 2021-22 and an association with some of the republic’s best gallopers.
Within days of landing in the country at the behest of Byerley Park owner Daniel Nakhle and his right-hand man, former South African jockey Donovan Mansour, Kennedy’s brief included trackwork at Lindsay Racing’s Karaka training establishment. On October 22 at Te Rapa he opened his account on the John Bell-trained Cleese, and he’s hardly missed a beat since.
The timing could not have better to make his services available to resident Lindsay Racing trainer Lance Noble, given the vacuum that existed following the retirement of former retained jockey Leith Innes.
The decision to walk away from a high-profile career in his homeland was not an easy one for Kennedy and his wife Barbara, but a number of factors influenced them.
“It was a tough decision being the champion jockey and having massive support from everyone,” Kennedy told RaceForm. “But unfortunately South Africa has a lot of crime and we wanted to find the best opportunities thinking ahead for our two young daughters.
“It wasn’t a monetary thing, it was about securing the right future, to get out into the world and make the move now while the children were young and I still had some good years of riding ahead of me.”
As well as the encouragement afforded by Nakhle and Mansour for Kennedy and fellow jockey Craig Zackey to relocate, Kennedy also had his brother Tyron and sister Robyn in his corner, having already settled with their families in Auckland.
Within weeks of arriving Kennedy was joined by his wife and children Jamie Lee (three years) and Ryleigh (18 months), and they now live close to the action in Karaka.
“It’s been a very busy time since I arrived, I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath. Between riding trackwork and travelling to races, plus the family here wanting to show us around, there hasn’t been much time to relax.
“New Zealand is everything we were told, what we’ve seen it’s a lovely country and from the time I arrived here I haven’t met a single person who I haven’t liked.
“Everything has worked out so well, I really couldn’t have wished for better. It’s great to have the family settled in and to be getting these results on some very nice horses.”