Corne Orffer and Brett Crawford’s victory shake (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)
Becoming a successful jockey is rarely a smooth, linear progression to the top. Instead, stagnation and setbacks are all part of the process – something that Pierre Corne Orffer understands as a journeyman jock, though his current mood is especially perky after winning the KRA Fillies Guineas on Alexis over the weekend at Greyville.
English teacher and riding instructor Cecily Kuhn unwittingly launched his riding career when banishing the 11 year old class clown to do eventing and show-jumping. The bubbly kid responded to the “punishment” by showing no fear of the horses, instead loving the sensation of riding and promptly won three shows to start an adventuresome career in the saddle.
Now stable jockey to Brett Crawford, having replaced the injured, then subsequently retired senior pilot, Glen Hatt, Orffer has been exposed to some pivotal influences since joining the Academy in 1996. Initially, he benefitted from the experience of instructor Vincent Curtis and riding master, Robert Moore. He was talented from the outset, only finishing a single winner behind friend and top jock Bernard Fayd’ Herbe in his first year of race riding.
“Perhaps it all came too easy…” mused PC, who admits to an unsettled career, as itchy feet kept him moving around and about the country. Spells with the canny, but hard, veteran conditioner Ormonde Ferraris, and time as stable jock to the strictly professional Michael Azzie were rigorous and formative learning experiences on the Highveld.
Pierre also enjoyed three stints of duty on the island of Mauritius. He finished 3rd on the riding log in 2007 when teaming up with Hughes Maigrot, rode for the late legend Kiki Henry in 2010 and enjoyed a good season with Rameshwa Gujadhur in 2013. The island is a tough and pressure- laden gambling environment, and the kamikaze style of some of the jocks mean it is not for the faint hearted. The brave Orffer thrived in such an adrenalin- soaked, speed environment, recalling how he continued riding after breaking his foot early in a meeting, booting home a double despite the injury.
During periods back in SA, Orffer relished three years as light weight jockey to master KZN conditioner Dennis Drier, improving his skills under one of South Africa’s finest old school trainers. He also did well on Brett Crawford’s Natal raiders who was working as a private trainer for Sabine Plattner back in 2004/5. Crawford has since “gone public” and commands a potent 110 horse string with a wide spread of powerful patrons, and the trainer/jockey partnership has been revived a decade later, providing the grateful Orffer with a massive mid-career boost.
Orffer was grinding it out in KZN with few substantial opportunities, supported by long time loyalist, trainer Mike Miller, until he was offered the gap by Crawford over a highly liquid supper. Orffer was disbelieving at first, thinking the offer too good to be true, perhaps even some sort of practical joke before the serious intent behind Crawford’s proposal sunk in. The partnership has fared well since with a strike rate of 12% winners and 35% placing to mounts. “It was ballsy of Brett to back me but we have always worked well together – getting along great and sharing good feedback. Teamwork plays a huge role as we understand what works for different horses. He realises that I prefer not getting instructions. Instead, Brett will give me guide-lines and leave the rest up to me as he trusts my instincts. He wants his horses to run on, rather than run out of steam, so I always try switch the horses off in the early stages.”
Quizzed about his strengths as a rider, Orffer replied, “I’m best at settling horses and rely on my natural gift of balance – the quieter I sit the better. I have a feel for pace rather than something I count mechanically. When riding for Mr Gujadhur in Mauritius (who is big on clocking times) he was impressed that I was seldom out by much, so I feel best following my instinctive judgement. In a finish I prefer avoiding the stick, again depending mainly on balance to get the horses home.”
Those attributes were evident on Saturday when he guided Alexis to victory in the Grade 2 KRA Fillies Guineas at Greyville. Orffer settled the Dynasty filly in a comfortable rhythm, securing a forward position in a race run at a rather slow early tempo. Alexis has a tremendous turn of foot, so choosing to set her alight at the top of the straight and get first run on the field was tactically astute – the pair duly glided to a stylish triumph.
Orffer is a bright and articulate fellow, sufficiently self-aware to know that, despite these recent successes, there is much that he can still improve upon. He regrets the pattern of repeatedly missing out on big horses and is still seeking his first Grade 1 victory. “I’ve taken a back seat too often – perhaps it has to do with not putting myself out there with strong enough self-belief. I may also have created a problem for myself in the past by moving on rather than sticking it out. But I’m totally committed to the Crawford yard and want to build up a reputation as a big race jockey – I just need to stand up for myself better to boost my profile.”
Like many jockeys, Orffer gets a real buzz out of speed, feeling truly alive on top of racehorses – and he also loves fast cars. Appropriately sponsored by SMG BMW in Cape Town, as well as the vibey Vasco tavern in Green Point, the genial jock is savouring the new opportunity and surrounds. He may daydream about causing a sensation and earning big bucks in Singapore at some point in the future, but is determined to maximise his career here and now.
Orffer is level-headed and sensibly prefers to align himself with the “good guys.” He has always possessed the skills, physical fitness and right mental attitude to do well. He would acknowledge that when the opportunities have been there, he has sometimes made it count – but other times not. He is potentially moving into one of the most productive stages of his career and has the maturity and motivation to really maximise the chance. With a sparkle in his eyes, Pierre Corne explained, “Don’t ever say you cannot do something,” – that can–do spirit plus an opportune association with high flying horseman Crawford may just be the catalyst for elevating PC Orffers’ career to the next level.