THEY are young, they are well prepared, they are energetic and they are hungry for success. Those are the traits the new apprentices brought to the beleaguered racetrack on their first official raceday in the saddle last Saturday.
As expected they were well greeted by race-goers who welcomed them with open arms and of course great expectations and they, at least three of them, did not disappoint.
The first race of nine was over 1,700 metres for three-year-olds and up Claiming ($250,000 — $210,000) provided fertile ground for the apprentices to show their worth. Yes We Will ridden by apprentice Kuri Powell led for most of the way, but was overtaken by Bullet Line (Paul Francis) entering the straight. The young man managed his nerves well by keeping on the shortest route, the rails, all the time urging his mount forward; it was a battle to behold and Yes We Will responded to claw back Francis and Bullet Line by a neck. In one minute 52 seconds, Powell as the first winning representative of the new apprentices gave them traction, gave them accomplishment and the hope of a bright and successful future. It was also good to see trainer Robert Darby Snr, who recorded his third win for the year. Darby remains one of the gentlemen in racing despite his relative lack of success over the last few years. Despite this obvious downturn when compared to the past he has stayed true to his profession.
Renardo McNaughton rode confidently in carrying home the Anthony Nunes-trained Jagsover in the fourth race. While his work was relatively easy when compared to Powell, McNaughton did what he had to do skilfully and without fuss. He looked fairly accomplished in the saddle.
Powell and McNaughton whetted the appetite, then in the sixth race it was the time for Ruja Lahoe to display his skills and that he did. The race was over 1,400 metres for three-year-old maidens. With a furlong and a half (300 metres) to go, Lunan found himself in the lead looking, as they say, all over a winner. Then former champion jockey Shane Ellis brought Special Report with a storming run. Special Report was eating up the real estate with every stride, yet the young apprentice kept his mount going to prevail by a neck. The 'house' responded with jubilant cheers as Lunan had claimed a big time scalp. Ellis, on his way back to unsaddle, wore a wry smile on his face, while Lunan and his supporters were wrapped in joy.
The successes of Powell, McNaughton, and Lunan augur well for racing. One hopes that they will keep level heads and not get too excited. The journey of a top-class jockey is very long, filled with many hurdles and challenges. Winning at the first time of offing is commendable, but there are going to be dry days, there are going to be disappointments and the ones who will succeed are those who are prepared to take the hard times, those who will work hard at exercise in the mornings despite not winning and those who respect the sport and its glorious traditions.
A really good beginning for the apprentices, we wish them well, but ask that they remember their training and the people who make their existence possible, the race fan.
Commanding Chief rebounded from defeat two weeks ago to easily score in the feature event, the Owen Silvera Memorial Cup over 1,600 metres. When he last ran it was over 1,300 metres, Commanding Chief did so over a trip which many thought to be just a bit too short for him. Add to this was the fact that he was drawn in the dreaded number one post position. He jumped slowly and never recovered losing to Reasonable Press. This time over a mile, 'The Chief' was able to settle, get into his flow and won easily.
Dane Nelson is a man on a mission. Raceday after raceday he rides closer and closer to his first championship, a feat he has yearned for during his riding career. His fine triple on Saturday took him one step closer to his desired target.
The performance of the imported, Philip Feanny-trained El Ponderoso was eye-catching. The three-year-old colt won impressively over 1,300 metres and is definitely one to follow.