Keagan Latham wouldn’t be the same without Australia

One reason why certain sports people are more successful than others is their ability to use constructive criticism. And South African jockey Keagan Latham is one of them.

If he didn’t listen to some hard truths five years ago, he would not be riding at Randwick on Saturday.

Like many young athletes, when things come easy early on they tend to get a bit lazy and content with living an easy life.

Anton Marcus, the younger brother of multiple Hong Kong title-winning champion Basil, gave Latham an honest opinion of where the young rider was heading.

“He said to me ‘you’re one of the biggest wastes of talent in South ­Africa’. That hit home. It made me want to cry,” Latham said.

“I knew he was right. I couldn’t deny that. That’s when I decided to pack up shop in South Africa, sell my house and move to England.”

Latham’s next career move wasn’t his best, however.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t the fairytale start and I struggled to get going. After 18 months of being there, I was tired of racing,” he said.

“I think I rode seven winners in the whole season in the UK in 2016 and I pretty much gave up on myself and lost all confidence.

“My partner (Nancy) suggested I go to Australia just to ride work for six months to refresh my mind.

“When I got here, I fell in love with the place overnight and Gai Waterhouse got me going.”

Plan C is working just fine for Latham, who has been consistently riding winners for a few seasons.

To do that, however, he had to figure out what was previously going wrong and it wasn’t on the track.

Latham realised his mental health wasn’t 100 per cent.

“It’s very difficult to ride when not motivated. I didn’t understand people who were depressed but I looked back and realised I was because I had given up on myself,” he said.

“I thrived on being competitive and when that gets taken away from you, you struggle to day-to-day.”

Australia has given Latham a second lease on life and he said if he hadn’t got his mental health right he would be living a life he didn’t want to be living.

“Depression is a real thing and I unfortunately lost a cousin a month ago due to depression. He was struggling and took his own life,” he said.

“It made me realise when I was going through depression five years ago that I never acknowledged it as depression.

“I lost the will to want to be in racing and I was panicking because racing was the only thing I knew.”

Keagan Latham riding in the UK, where he had little success before packing his bags for Australia. Picture: PA Images via Getty ImagesSource:The Daily Telegraph

Want to know what’s different between racing in Australian and South Africa and Europe?

Latham said there’s less margin for error in Australia.

“The race craft is much different to South Africa and Europe and it took me a while to get to grips with how they ride in Australia,” he said.

“In Europe, for example, if a horse fluffs the start they’re still not out of it because the courses are so much different.

“Here, though, a lot of races are won in the first furlong.

“You’ve got to get your horse out of the barriers as fast as possible and into a prominent spot.

“I find that riders here, because there’s no cutaway, have to find a good spot.

“You’ve got to be well aware of everyone around you in a race so you can make a manoeuvre before you need to. They are some of the best jockeys in the world.

“I’ve never felt as much competitiveness as I’ve felt in a jockeys’ room in Australia.”

The exposure is also a huge difference.

Jockeys who come here from overseas often are shocked when they see racing on the front and back pages.

“Racing, as a whole, in Australia is so much bigger than South Africa. There are only eight racecourses there,” Latham said.

“I just wish I’d come to Australia sooner. The opportunities are massive over here.

“I’d never raced in a country where there are three tiers of racing with country, provincial and city racing.”

Latham doesn’t know why more international jockeys aren’t making Australia home.

The connections of Winx were often criticised in Europe for not going over and taking on their best, but why would you when the races in your backyard are worth millions more?

“Racing in Australia gives a hell of a lot more people an opportunity to make a living,” Latham said.

“The prizemoney in the UK is not very good. There’s so much racing but the prizemoney is pretty mediocre. I don’t see why more jockeys wouldn’t want to come here.”

Latham has ridden 86 winners across NSW this season but is determined to add to his tally of 11 in town over the next few weeks.

“It’s an important period for me, taking the opportunity to ride in town while some of the big guns are away,” Latham said.

“It’s a good chance to get my foot in the door and I’ve got a few nice rides, so hopefully it can go well.”

Snitz, who Latham will ride on Saturday, winning the Takeover Target Stakes last year. Picture: AAPSource:AAP

Latham will ride the likes of Eleven Eleven, Snitz, Feel The Rush, Magic Ruler and More Prophets.

And the connections of his rides can expect their jockey to know everything about their form.

“I acknowledge every race, even if I’m not riding in them. I watch them over and over and try and spot the horses that finish off well even if they don’t win,” Latham said.

“It’s important to know the ins and outs of the form. It makes it easier on myself and the trainer to figure out what’s the best way of riding a horse.

“Any trainer will agree with me when I say the sooner you can figure out how to ride a horse, then the sooner you will get results out of them.”

Trainer Sterling Alexiou said he had no doubt that Latham could become a more permanent fixture in the Sydney jockeys’ room, especially if he rode a stack of winners during the next few Saturdays.

“I can probably count on one hand the amount of his rides you could pot in the past few years,” Alexiou said.

“Every time he goes out there you get an eight or nine out of 10 and we’ve had a lot of luck with him.

“We’ve probably got the highest strike rate with him out of all the jockeys.

“He’s very strong and you always know what you’re going to get.

“He is good enough but he can’t ride below 55kg, which is probably holding him back a bit.”

On Saturday, Latham has eight rides.

Feel The Rush is Latham’s first ride for the Maher/Eustace stable since he won them the Scone Cup last year.

She will run in the third race over 2400m off a third placing over the same trip at Warwick Farm and will be fitter for it after coming off a four-week freshen-up.

“It will stay the trip, no problem,” Latham said.

“Their style of training definitely suits those staying horses.

“They have an abundance of jockeys they use, so while they’re out of town it’s nice to be given a ride on one of theirs.”

Dream Circle is one that Latham will look forward to riding on Saturday due to his connection with David Payne.

“We’re both from Durban and he’s another city trainer that has given me a few winners,” Latham said.

“It won very well at its last start. It really quickened up on a heavy track, so he should be able to go close to winning again.”

The 33-year-old Latham has come a long way in the past decade to emerge as a rider without many chinks is his armour.

And you don’t make it in Sydney with weaknesses.

Originally published asLatham grabs second chance after ‘wasted talent’ home truth

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