New Zealand is delivering everything experienced jockey Warren Kennedy had yearned for when he made the bold decision to relocate from South Africa five months ago.
Kennedy left a successful career in his homeland in search of a better balance of work and time with his family and has no regrets, having quickly garnered the support of leading Waikato stables.
That’s emphasised at Tauranga on Saturday where he has a full book of eight rides on his return from suspension with five mounts for Te Akau’s Mark Walker and one apiece for Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott and Roger James and Robert Wellwood.
He will also partner Andrew Forsman’s Marroni, the pre-post favourite for the Gr.2 Ultimate Mazda Japan Trophy (1600m).
“I’ve got some nice rides coming up and I’m ready to get back into it for sure,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy arrived in New Zealand last October and was shortly after joined by wife Barbara and daughters Jamie Lee and Ryleigh in a move facilitated by Byerley Park founder Daniel Nakhle and former jockey Donovan Mansour.
“I wanted to spend a lot more time with my family as South Africa races every single day and I was on a plane all the time,” he said.
“I just wanted a better balance of my workload and family life and it was really difficult to do it there.
“I wanted to get my children out and get them passports that would mean something later in life and we are on track to residency so hopefully that all goes well. We are just cracking on and doing our best.”
While he came with an impressive record, having twice won the South African Jockeys’ Premiership and a Champion Apprentice title and ridden eight Group One winners, Kennedy was well aware he would have to prove himself.
“It’s not easy coming to a new country and not knowing what to expect, even if I did have a good CV,” he said.
“You still have to show you can ride these courses and it’s been really great and everyone has got behind me.”
Kennedy has repaid the support he has received with a current tally of 44 winners including eight at stakes level and victory in the Gr.1 Zabeel Classic (2050m) aboard the Graham Richardson and Rogan Norval-trained Defibrillate.
“Once everyone realises you can get the job done in Group races you are away because that’s where the focus is and I was able to do that pretty early on,” he said.
Kennedy’s success is not only testament to his riding talent, but also his ability to adapt.
“I had to get used to the shorter straights and tighter tracks and also the way the guys race here,” he said.
“There are no false rails here, which I was used to in South Africa. Once you turn into the straight there was plenty of room and everyone spreads out so it took me a while to get used to it.
“I think I latched on pretty quickly though and find it quite comfortable now to read races and to win them.”
Another major highlight thus far for Kennedy has been a three-start unbeaten run with top filly Prowess that netted them the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) and Group Two successes in the Auckland Guineas (1600m) and David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m).
He will be an interested spectator when the James and Wellwood representative runs in Saturday’s Gr.1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill.
“She has done nothing wrong and has stepped up every time. She is a wonderful filly and I’m sure she will do really well, she is very tough,” Kennedy said.
“There’s a good filly I can compare Prowess to in South Africa and that’s Summer Pudding, who won 10 in a row and four of them were Group Ones for me.
“She was really, really good and Prowess isn’t far behind her so it’s close.”
Comparing the quality of South African to New Zealand thoroughbreds is something Kennedy has been regularly quizzed on.
“It’s a tough one and I’ve been asked the question a few times, but I will say I’m not too clued up on the breeding side of things but it feels to me that New Zealand horses are Classic types,” he said.
“Maybe in sprints up to 1400m, I’d say the South African horses would have your number, but once over a mile and further the horses here are pretty tough and strong.”