Better than a punch in the face: The life and times of a money jockey

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Better than a punch in the face: The life and times of a money jockey

By Max Presnell

Brutality, more than bullying, figured with “money jockeys” – a title James McDonald and Brock Ryan currently hold.

Obviously McDonald qualifies riding about 25 per cent of winners to mounts in the Sydney metropolitans against demanding opposition; while Ryan, still a learner, is reaping gold with a two-kilo claim.

Trainer Jim Barker (left) was a brutal taskmaster, as jockey Des Lake (right) discovered.

Trainer Jim Barker (left) was a brutal taskmaster, as jockey Des Lake (right) discovered.Credit:Fairfax Media

Ryan rode four winners at Rosehill Gardens last Saturday followed by Finally Realised ($18) at Wednesday’s Kensington circuit, putting him in the good books of those that back an in-form apprentice.

Modern-day titleholders are a far cry from predecessors. Statistics are worthwhile but ending up on the right side of the betting ledger has timeless appeal to horse players who follow jockeys.

Once the dominator for those in the hot seat was getting the right result when the money was on, otherwise physical pain was a possibility.

However it wasn’t all about winning: giving a mount a beneficial run, not necessarily “dead”, but hidden so it wouldn’t create future attention was another aspect.

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Being able to assess track gallops was a necessity. Some greats were not particularly good at the caper. Also the title holder didn’t affect the opening odds but would get the job done with the “no luck”, used constantly these days, not in the vocabulary.

Such a bleat would have brought a sharp retort from Warwick Farm trainer Jim Barker, who would throw a king hit quicker than blinking an eye. Barker was a master of getting top odds, geared around employing the right hoop, thus he imported Des Lake to Sydney from Victoria.

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Between 1964 and 1970 Lake won 14 major races, including three Epsoms against vintage opposition including George Moore.

Barker was dogmatic about his riding instructions being followed, and heaven help those that deviated. Lake related how Barker “took him down the back” and gave him a good hiding after he scored on a mount that shouldn’t have.

Barker’s brother Roy, a gentler soul, tried to intercede on Lake’s behalf and coped a backhander for his trouble.

Despite his group one successes, Lake remembered the Barker-trained Khalekhan’s 1968 Tancred triumph at Rosehill best.

“We got the lot,” he recalled. “Thirty-three to one until we ran out of money. We won every quid on the course.”

Lake was 25; Ryan, a late starter, is now 27, an age when Cliff Clare was well seasoned.

Clare, 91 on August 1, and the epitome of a money rider, survived the hard times and is still going strong. Clare was apprenticed to George McCahon at Rosebery. McCahon had a nose that stopped every left jab thrown at him.

When only 19 Clare had a dispute with the trainer. “He jobbed me,” Clare told Winning Post. “The force of the punch pushed me back onto a chair. I picked it up and smacked him over the head with it and left.”

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Given a three-year suspension Clare appealed to the Australian Jockey Club hoping he could join another stable.

“First you have to apologise to Mr McCahon,” Clare was told, before retorting: “He hit me first and I am only seven stone (44.5kg). He should apologise to me.”

The suspension stood. Later Clare became the money rider for Big Jack and Mr Bob Ingham, founders of the Woodlands Stud and Crown Lodge empire, when they were having a bet. He won a Golden Slipper (1967) for them on Sweet Embrace but it didn’t give him right of way for future mounts.

Subsequently Royal Britannia, under Clare, showed ability for the “Chicken Kings”.

“I rode him in work and knew he had talent,” Clare explained.” I didn’t want to show up him so I didn’t push him out in gallops. Jack checked with the clockers who reckoned he was only average. I told him, ‘Don’t worry, this is unbeatable on Saturday’. Jack had a nice bet and he bolted in and then won the Silver Slipper.”

Alas, in the autumn, John Duggan replaced Clare on Royal Britannia.

“The Inghams liked to have topliners on their horses in big races,” Clare added.

The money jockey had done his job.

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