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The Senegalese jockey racing for global glory

Fallou Diop looks like an ordinary Senegalese teenager until he gets on the back of a horse, and takes off.The 19-year-old is one of Senegal’s most promising jockeys, according to the stable owner he rides for, and two years ago won the country’s most prestigious racing prize.He trains intensely from early in the morning on the sandy shores of Lac Rose.”I really like epic racing. It’s the elders who taught us everything since we were young, and that’s how I became passionate about horses.”Horses are an integral part of Senegal’s cultural identity and over the past 50 years competitive racing has developed into a national past time.Diop’s grandfather, father bred horses and his brother raced before him, but he has an advantage.His weight – just under 80 lbs – means he can handle most horses without tiring them, and he says he’s developed a special relationship with Raissa Betty, a two-year-old foal.”Before she was born I took care of her mother until she gave birth. And she has recognized me ever since.”When he’s not riding horses, Diop lives with 12 family members in the nearby town of Niaga.He says he wants to make his parents proud and one day have a house of his own.Back at the stud farm, owner Adama Bao is trying to help Diop fulfil his dreams.He’s organized for the teenage jockey to train in France for three months next year racing for a French-Senegalese breeder.”I want to be the best jockey in a country other than mine. In Morocco or France, anywhere where there is horse racing.”But until then Diop tests his ability at a track in Thies, Senegal’s third largest city.Depending on the number of races he competes in, Diop can earn up to $600 by the end of the day.Before the start of his race on a recent Sunday, he is confident and at ease.And of course, he wins.