Munger makes great first impression, looks for lasting one at Woodbine

Munger makes great first impression, looks for lasting one at Woodbine

TORONTO, May 12, 2023– Ryan Munger couldn’t have scripted the moment any better.

As he walked out of the Woodbine jockeys’ room for the first race on May 6 at Woodbine, the champion jockey who had already made a name for himself competing in his native South Africa and in Singapore, imagined what it would be like to make that first start a winning one.

The thought crossed his mind again when he got a leg up over the 3-year-old dark bay gelding Silent Miracle in the paddock ahead of the sixth race on an overcast afternoon at the Toronto oval. It was no different as the field made its way through the tunnel and onto the racetrack, in the moments heading to the starting gate, and when starter Ian Ross sent the nine horses on their way in the seven-furlong race over the Tapeta.

Silent Miracle’s 10-1 odds suggested Munger, given the mount after Kazushi Kimura was handed the reins of Mandarin Hero (JPN) in the Kentucky Derby, had an outside shot of seeing that dream realized, but it would require a combination of racing luck, a solid trip, and a strong finish.

Sitting a half-length back of the frontrunner and a head in front of another contender at the stretch call, the duo was carried out late by a drifting rival before striking front and then holding on for a neck score.

Mission accomplished.

“Strangely enough, I was very calm that day and in the moment,” recalled Munger. “I was actually so calm that I surprised myself. The horse, he did seem a head better than the field, so I just had to put him in the right spot. He broke out of the gate very well and I was able to put him in the spit I wanted to. He is a pretty simple horse to ride. I thought we had won quite comfortably, but when I saw the photo-finish it was a bit tighter than I had thought. But I did think I had it.”

Munger, who has his Canadian citizenship, was still beaming the day after his milestone moment.

“It’s the usual feeling whenever you win… joy. Every winner I’ve had has brought me joy. What is different about this one is that it came at Woodbine. So, it was just a very happy moment.”

Born September 15, 1995, in Durban, and raised in Johannesburg, Munger attended the South African Jockey Academy and completed his five-year apprenticeship there from 2011-2015.

His first mount came aboard Vladimir (SAF) on October 23, 2012, at Scottsville in South Africa. Just over two months later, he guided Nordic Lass (SAF) to victory at Clairwood, also in his homeland.

Since then, Munger, whose uncle, Stuart Randolph, was a jockey, has amassed nearly 800 career wins, and has been a Top 10 staple in South Africa and Singapore. He was the leading rider in Zimbabwe in 2017 and 2018.

Now, some 13,800-plus kilometres from where he grew up, Munger, who once described himself in an interview as a “very placid and a generally positive person,” will chase his goal of becoming a top rider in one of North America’s most competitive jockey colonies.

“You always have to be an edge better than the other rider. It is a very competitive jockey colony. It is challenging, but I’ve got confidence in myself. I’m going to work, be myself, be nice, and hopefully everything falls into place.”

So far, it has, both at the racetrack and on the home front.

Munger, along with his wife, Kelsey, are currently living with jockey agent Mike Luider and his wife in Milton, about a 30-minute drive west of Woodbine.

“I can’t complain. The first week, I thought, ‘It’s very cold here.’ But the weather is great, and the people are unbelievable. I was very surprised to see how many nice and polite people are here, and how helpful they are. Everyone always says what nice people Canadians are, but they have really taken it up a notch. Everyone is so accommodating and helpful.”

Munger has been making the rounds on the Woodbine backstretch, introducing himself to trainers and other horse people.

Those visits, daily ones, are as much about gaining familiarity with trainers as they are about the possibility of earning future mounts. ​

“Even if there isn’t an opportunity to ride for them now, I want to be courteous, have a smile on my face, and say hello. You hope that somewhere down the road someone will say, ‘Let’s give this guy a chance.’”

If his first win is any indication of his abilities in the irons, those opportunities should come his way.

As for riding style, Munger prefers to let his horses call the shots.

“I ride each horse as to what their strength is. I don’t overcomplicate things. When those gates open, it’s a completely different ballgame than what you have mapped out in your mind. Some horses might not break the way you expected, some are quicker than you anticipated. I concentrate on my horse and try to get them to peak at the right time during the race. That’s my philosophy, to get the best out of my horse on that particular day.”

Munger is eager to test out his skills on Woodbine’s two turf courses. He already has rave reviews for the main track.

“The inside turf course looks like a very technical track from watching the replays. The E.P. Taylor looks like one I will really enjoy riding because I can judge the pace well, bide my time and hopefully make that winning move.

“The Tapeta, it’s like a duck taking to water. We had that type of course in Singapore and it was exactly as I remember it. You put the horse where they have the best chance to be comfortable. What’s crucial about the Tapeta is where you get your horse going. When you are able to find that right moment, you can really increase your chances of winning. That’s what happened when we won that race, where we found that opening and had the momentum to go on from that moment.”

When he isn’t chasing his next victory, Munger, an accomplished cricketer in his youth, as well as a fan of Premier League football side Arsenal, enjoys hitting the links for a round of golf.

He’s looking to test out Canadian fairways and greens in the coming weeks. ​

“Hopefully, the golf will come soon. Watching Arsenal has been tricky so far. I’m still trying to find a channel that shows the Premier League games. I found a channel that shows all the IPL (India Premier League) games, so that’s good. One of these days, hopefully soon, I can get out on that golf course.”

Munger’s main focus will continue to be on establishing himself as an in-demand rider at Canada’s Showplace of Racing.

He might not be the only Munger making a name for themselves at Woodbine.

“Kelsey has settled in quite well. She’s happy. We’re just trying to get her paperwork in order. Once that is sorted out, she can start working here. She’s looking forward to that, but we just have to be patient with the process. She has a lot of qualifications. She can be an assistant trainer, she can gallop, she can breeze. She rode in amateur races back in South Africa, so she’s very competent at a lot of things. Whatever the right job is, she’ll work to find it.”

The move to Canada has already felt like a winning one for Munger.

“I enjoy the competition and I certainly enjoy crossing the wire first. Hopefully, there are plenty more of those to come.”

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @woodbinecomms

Grace Martin
Grace Martin Communications Specialist, Woodbine Entertainment
Horse Racing - TB
About Woodbine Entertainment

Woodbine Entertainment is the largest horse racing operator in Canada, with Thoroughbred horse racing at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and Standardbred horse racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Milton. Woodbine Entertaiment also owns and operates HPIbet, Canada’s only betting platform dedicated to horse racing. Woodbine and Mohawk Park are host to several world-class racing events including The King’s Plate, three Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races, and the Pepsi North America Cup. Run without share capital, Woodbine Entertainment has a mandate to financially invest all profit back into the horse racing industry and the 25,000 jobs it supports across Ontario.   

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