Michael ‘Muis’ Roberts was South African Champion Jockey 11 times before turning his attention to Britain in 1986. It was, in fact, his second ‘crack’ at breaking into the elite of British jockeys after his first, abortive attempt in 1978, when he rode just 25 winners.
In 1986, with the support of Alec Stewart and Clive Brittain, Roberts rode a ‘quite satisfactory’ 42 winners but, by his own admission, his riding career in Britain really ‘took off’ when he rode Mtoto, trained by Stewart, to victory over the Derby winner, Reference Point, in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in 1987. In fact, Mtoto won the Coral-Eclipse Stakes again in 1988, as well as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot three weeks later, and is consequently the horse for which Roberts is best remembered internationally.
Nevertheless, fast forward five years to 1992 and, having become first jockey to Sheikh Mohammed, Roberts won his first and only jockeys’ title in Britain with 206 winners. He was, in fact, one of the few jockeys born outside the British Isles, and the first since Steve Cauthen, in 1987, to become Champion Jockey. Furthermore, at that time, he became just the fourth jockey since 1840 – after Fred Archer, Tommy Loates and Sir Gordon Richards – to ride over 200 winners in a season.
Highlights of his title-winning season include three wins for European Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Lyric Fantasy, trained by Richard Hannon Snr., in the National Stakes at Sandown, the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Nunthorpe Stakes at York, two more Royal Ascot winners – in the form of Shalford, also trained by Hannon, in the Cork and Orrery Stakes, and Armarama, trained by Clive Brittain, in the Ribblesdale Stakes – and Ivanka, also trained by Brittain, in the Fillies’ Mile at Ascot.