I nearly got sent back to Adelaide
There were early struggles when I started out, but from the time I was a young kid I never focused on racing being a career. It was a passion.
It wasn’t a case of me thinking I was going to get to the top, or anywhere near the top. It was a case of me wanting to be a good jockey, and wanting to win big races.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was under the impression it was going to happen no matter what. It was a case of just staying focused and having a crack. That’s what got me to Melbourne.
But there were times early in my apprenticeship where things weren’t going as well as I would have liked. I nearly got sent back to Adelaide, which would really have had my career as a young jockey heading in a different direction. That was down to my performances.
I was quite young when I started my apprenticeship. I’d done a short portion riding in country South Australia and then a small portion riding in Adelaide. I was held up with a couple of injuries and broke my arm.
As an apprentice jockey you’ve got an allowance, a claim, but my uncle Tony said, ‘Okay, we’ll put you on pause for a minute and save your claim until we get you to Melbourne.’
That was good in theory, but in reality, it probably had me a little bit green when I got to Melbourne. And with Melbourne being the Mecca of racing, I wasn’t ready for it.
Peter Hayes was my trainer at the time and he wanted to send me back to Adelaide, which I wasn’t all that keen on.
It took a little bit of luck, hard work and determination, but I stuck it out and the tide started to turn. I gained some momentum and an awareness of what was needed in Melbourne, on the big scene.
Winning my first Melbourne Cup
I was only 20 when I won the 2000 Melbourne Cup on Brew.
The win propelled my career forward in a great manner but I was able to keep my feet on the ground. I pride myself on the fact that I took it pretty well and kept my eyes on the ball.
I thought, ‘Okay this has been a whirlwind success but now I’ve got to make the most of it and capitalise on the position I’m in.’
So it was head down, bum up.
I look back at it now with fond memories of the way I was guided through that period by my family and my now wife, Cathy, and also by my friend and fellow jockey Steven Arnold.
There was obviously a bit of partying involved but it was straight back into it after that.
Having won that first Melbourne Cup, I really wanted to cement myself in the top echelon of riders here in Australia.
A game of inches
We go out there with a real carefree attitude towards what we’re doing, but that landscape changes as you get a family.
It’s a very risky job that us jockeys partake in. Anything can go wrong once you’re on the back of a horse. It’s a case of almost blocking it out.
You’re aware of the risks and we really do put so much trust in each other, not only each individual jockey but the horses as well.
It’s a game of inches. You’ve got to ride competitively, but you’ve got to ride safely as well. And I must say, the safety area of things as a jockey has improved ten-fold over the last 10-20 years.
It’s now regulated well by our stewards’ panel, and I feel that everyone knows the boundaries and there’s a sense of security out there to some degree. When you do go out in a race you know that everyone’s riding a very fine line, and riding tightly and riding competitively, but everyone’s aware of what the boundaries are.
You’ve got to have your wits about you because it can change with a click of your fingers. So next time those punters are blaring abuse over the fence, they’ve just got to realise that we’re out there doing our best and trying to get these big beasts home.