Was Michael Roberts ever Champion Jockey in Britain?

Born in Cape Town, South Africa on May 17, 1954, Michael ‘Muis’ Roberts is, nowadays, a trainer based in Summerveld, KwaZulu-Natal. He retired from the saddle, on medical advice, in May 2002, having injured vertebrae in his neck in a fall at Wolverhampton the previous September.


Nevertheless, Roberts is best remembered, internationally, for his back-to-back victories on Mtoto, trained by Alec Stewart, in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in 1987 and 1988. Indeed, Roberts has no doubt that Mtoto was the best horse he rode. He once said, ‘He [Mtoto] was three to five lengths better than Lando [on whom Roberts won the Japan Cup in 1995] at 2,000 metres, which is the true test of a great horse.’

Roberts won the South African Flat Jockeys’ Championship 11 times, on the first occasion while still an apprentice, but, having moved to Britain in 1986, described Mtoto winning the Eclipse as the ‘turning point’ in his career. In 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991, he rode 122, 107, 128 and 118 winners, respectively, but, in 1992, took a retainer for Sheikh Mohammed, in the days before Godolphin. That season, Roberts rode 206 winners from 1,086 rides, at the healthy 19% strike rate – the highest of his career on British soil – to win the British Flat Jockeys’ Championship for the one and only time.

In so doing, Roberts became just the sixth ‘foreign’ jockey to win the title and just the fifth jockey in history – after after Fred Archer, Tommy Loates, Sir Gordon Richards and Pat Eddery – to ride 200 winners or more in a single British Flat season. Seasonal highlight included winning the Nunthorpe Stakes at York on Lyric Fantasy, trained by Richard Hannon Snr., and the Fillies’ Mile at Ascot on Ivanka, trained by Clive Brittain.