THRICE South African Champion Jockey Anthony Delpech has been forced to retire as a result of the spinal damage he suffered in a fall in the SA Classic at Turffontein in April last year. The 49yo was initially expected to be off for six to eight months and he worked a few horses at the Durban training centre at Summerveld last week but Delpech soon realised something was not right because of pain in his leg. “The fused disc and the herniated one have healed well but my spine is damaged and this is what is causing nerve pain down my leg,” he said. “I actually thought it was OK and I have been going for treatment. My physio suggested I get back to riding work and maybe the body will heal. But the second time I went back it felt so bad I went to see my doctor.
“He checked me out and advised I shouldn’t carry on because, with the nerve damage in my spine, it wasn’t safe to do so; every time I put pressure on it I would have a problem,” Delpech added. “He said he would rather I call it a day. In fact he was quite adamant about it, saying, ‘I won’t let you ride again. It’s just not safe’. He knows his job, so that was it. At the end of the day the spine obviously hasn’t healed because there is a problem there.” The original operation, performed three days after the fall, involved the removal of herniated disc material and inserting a bone graft into the disc space.
This was followed by a cervical fusion that entailed screwing the upper and lower vertebrae to a metal plate in order to stabilise the joint. Delpech, who was born in the Seychelles, has ridden the winners of most of the top South African races including the Durban July four times and the Met twice. He also enjoyed success in Dubai and Hong Kong and rode in the 2017 Shergar Cup at Ascot, winning the Classic on the John Best-trained Glenys The Menace. At the turn of the century, Delpech rode two seasons in the UAE as stable jockey for South African Nick Robb, also forging a powerful alliance with Rod Simpson aboard the initial intake of local Purebred Arabians.
The highlight of that stint was victory in the 2001 Jebel Ali Mile, a Listed race in those days, aboard Robb’s Conflict but his main claim to UAE fame was victory aboard Vengeance Of Rain in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on the World Cup card in 2007. Based in Hong Kong, he partnered the David Ferraris trainee to a famous victory in the 1m4f turf feature. Delpech, who also holds the record for the number of winners ridden in a South African season (334), is now contemplating his future. “Racing is all I have known and I was completely involved in it. I had thought about training before but never really seriously because I was so into riding. Obviously this is now the time that I need to make decisions about what I really want to do.”