So You Think's former jockey enjoying break after 25 tough years
Steven Arnold is the most conspicuous name absent from Australia’s riding ranks in the past 12 months.
The 43 year-old, who partnered So You Think to four Group 1 wins including the Cox Plate at the start of the decade, hasn’t been idle but he hasn’t ridden in a race in Australia since March last year.
The reason is simple. “The body’s just needed a bit of a break after 25 years of wasting,” he said.
Arnold’s as gifted as any of his contemporaries but taller and heavier than most and it’s been a constant battle to ride even as light as 57 kilograms for a man whose natural body weight is probably somewhere between 10 and 20 kilograms in excess of the ‘nine stone’ mark.
Right now, he’s riding work six mornings a week at Macedon Lodge but has no immediate plans to return to race riding. “It gets harder as you get older and, at the moment, I’m not missing it that much… but that could change. I’m not ruling it in or out,” he said.
Arnold had considered a return to Mauritius, where the 2018 season’s just begun, after a great 2017 season on the island nation in the Indian Ocean but family obligations around school-age children ruled that out. “I probably would have gone back but the kids really didn’t want me to,” Arnold said.
Arnold rode 20 winners through the one-meeting-a-week Mauritian 2017 season, to finish atop the premiership list, and claimed two of the four major races.
The Alice Springs-born jockey found himself in Mauritius largely through the recommendation of fellow Melbourne rider James Winks who had a successful 2016 in Mauritius and who’s returned this year. Winks rode a winner at the opening meeting at Champ De Mars last Saturday.
“It pretty much came about after talking to James and I was fortunate enough to be riding for the oldest and most popular stable in the country,” he said.
And his timing was right with said stable, headed by trainer Ramapatee (Soun) Gujadhur making history in 2017 as he became the first trainer in more than 80 years to win all four Classic races in Mauritius. He won the Duchess Of York Cup and the Duke Of York Cup with Ready To Attack while Tandragee and Enaad won the Barbe Cup and Maiden Cup respectively.
Arnold was aboard Tandragee and Enaad. The latter is the half brother to Blue Diamond winner Pride Of Dubai and he finished powerfully to claim the country’s most celebrated race, the Air Mauritius Maiden Cup.
“The Maiden Cup is their Melbourne Cup and it’s quite a big deal in a place where, for a lot of people, racing is their whole life. They’re pretty passionate about it,” he said.
Champ De Mars is a tiny racecourse with a circumference of just 1298 metres. “That certainly made it interesting,” Arnold said, “but you could ride on quietly off the speed and win. The last furlong (200 metres) is uphill and you could run on if the tempo was right.
“The training track, inside the racecourse, was even smaller so that could be a bit wild but overall the experience was great.”
A generally higher weight scale meant that Arnold could secure as many as six rides per meeting in the 58 to 59 kilogram range - way beyond his likely number of engagements in Australia.
“There was only the one meeting per week but you ride work every morning which keeps you focused. I was there to ride winners and riding for a trainer with the same mindset so that was great.
“It can be a fickle place with jockeys readily getting the sack which is generally after they’ve been unlucky rather than ridden one badly but fortunately I didn’t experience that and Soun (Gujadhar) was fantastic work to work with and ride for,” he said.
Arnold’s career has been dotted with numerous highlights since he won his first Group 1 aboard All Time High, for Russell Cameron, in the Thousand Guineas in 2000. He won that race again the following year on Magical Miss for Bart Cummings, which was something of a precursor to his association with the great So You Think who well and truly supplanted the Oaks-winning Magical Miss as the best horse he’s ridden.
His victory aboard Undue in the 2006 Doomben 10,000 was also memorable as it was the first time a Northern Territory-owned, trained and ridden horse had won a Group 1 race in Australia.
Less memorable was his decision to ride Gallic, on whom he’d won the Sydney and Adelaide Cups, in the 2007 Melbourne Cup. He opted for Gallic ahead of the winner Efficient whom he’d partnered in each lead-up run that spring. Gallic, as it turned out, was then scratched from the Cup on race morning.
His most recent Group 1 winner was Kushadasi in the 2014 SAJC Derby. Let’s hope it’s not his last even if he is currently enjoying what he calls a ‘normal’ life after the years of deprivation. Perhaps there’s one at Macedon Lodge, in the Efficient colours of Lloyd Williams, which might tempt him back to the raceday action.
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