Adam Bodey’s return to the saddle for the Quilly Park Balnarring Cup on Onya Keithy was a crowd-pleaser and a significant moment on a personal level for the jockey.
The picnics’ legend who chalked up 14 consecutive jockey premiership wins has also been training horses for over 10 years clocking up some great results in the combined roles of trainer and jockey.
Where did it all begin?
I was brought up in a racing family, my old man trained for as long as I can remember and I was always kicking around horses. When I was a kid I always had a notion that I might become a jockey. I started to follow jockeys and had my idols but honestly didn’t think that I had the dedication or discipline for it. As I got older, settled down into a relationship and became more motivated I gave it a crack.
I didn’t actually start race riding until I was in my twenties. It was a strange transition, being a young fellow I had other things to get out of my system first. Then something called me to it. At first I was absolutely shocking and after my first couple of rides I questioned whether I should carry on.
Picnic jockeys don’t have the benefit of apprenticeships so I followed a couple of the successful jockeys’ style and tried to emulate them. I practiced and practiced, watched, listened and reviewed. Damien Oliver is my all-time favourite. I copied everything he did.
Back then we didn’t have mechanical horses so we practised on chaff bags. We’d rig them up, put on a saddle, some reins, jump on and practise again and again.
Is it far tougher to keep race fit now than before?
You can ride as much track work as you like but raceday fitness requires another level. I’m a bit older now and can’t train as much as I used to, the body doesn’t let you punish it as much and can’t hold up to the rigours of multiple workouts in the same way.
Was the experience of your win at Balnarring very different from when you were race riding every weekend?
There was a massive difference. I ride around 70 horses a week in track work, something I can still do no problem.
But that one race ride knocked me around, I think the adrenaline got me through. I used a few muscles that I hadn’t used for a while and was a bit sore afterwards.
I’m not as mentally tough as I used to be either. Riding is second nature to me but I did start to doubt myself a little and thought to myself ‘I hope you don’t make yourself look stupid today’.
It was the strangest feeling to doubt myself. I’ve had over 5,000 race rides and Balnarring was the race I was worried about until I got the silks on, went into the mounting yard, got myself into the zone then went out and did the job. The feeling just passed.
Was Balnarring a one-off?
I was really missing the race riding. I didn’t really expect to be doing it again but the opportunity came up and I thought ‘Why not?’.
It didn’t really give me more of a taste to keep doing it but the satisfaction of the win has settled me.
A couple of other rides nearly came off, one I didn’t accept and another that didn’t get enough weight. If the right opportunity comes up, I’ll take it.
You’ve previously said that you wouldn’t call yourself a trainer. Is that something that’s set to change?
Someone asked me which trainer I’d had the most wins for so we googled it and found out it was myself! That was pretty funny and surprised me.
I’ve only got a small team but have been training since 2003. I even won the trainers premiership at the picnics in 2010 which a lot of people probably won’t realise.
I don’t have many picnic horses at the moment, we’ve been trying our luck at the regional tracks. I always saw myself as a jockey but have yet to really see myself as a trainer. Training is a much tougher gig than riding with so much to it but it’s significantly less dangerous!
You put 2 or 3 months into a horse in preparation for a race. If things don’t go to plan you need to try to work out what went wrong. As a jockey, you get off, give an explanation to the owner and trainer and don’t really have to think about it again. Jockeys clock off but trainers can’t.
I ride work for Robbie Griffiths and know how hard he works to get his results. Perhaps I’m not as dedicated to it yet as I am to riding, I don’t enjoy it as much.
As a trainer you’re also running a business, an area that I need to improve on. The toughest thing is getting owners to pay, a lot of trainers struggle with this.
Ideally, you’ll attract a better quality of horse to your stable by persuading owners to spend a bit more. A couple of good horses will certainly kick things along.
Does the racing industry make help available for trainers wishing to improve on their business skills?
If there is help of that nature, I’m ignorant of it. We have protection from the ATA but that doesn’t help you to get off the ground and keep running.
Jockeys have a lot more services available to them, such as access to counselling, physios and things like that through the Jockeys Association.
Aquanita is an interesting approach, their trainers manage the horses and the organisation does the rest.
What’s been the ultimate highlight of so many career highs?
Riding and training two picnic horses of the year, Christies and Whenwegoineast, known as ‘Bomber’ to us.
Bomber was a pig of a horse but came through on racedays. He didn’t just win, he won by good margins. He was hard to handle and I nearly gave up on him but then he won 8 from 10 starts over 1000m to nearly 2000m.
Preparing horses for a race as a trainer then getting to ride them on racedays is always a buzz.
Do you have any raceday rituals?
I’m very superstitious and habitual, I have a whole process on a raceday. There’s one thing that I always do regardless, that’s walk a track before racing. No matter how many times I’ve walked a track before I always do it on the day. Heaven forbid I can’t do it, if I’m running late it throws me right out.
As I’m walking I soak it all up, smell the air, relax into the day, shake the nerves out and get into the zone.
What advice would you give to aspiring jockeys?
I spent a lot of time picking trainers and jockey’s brains, I bounced ideas off my parents and my partner – I took it all in and soaked it up like a sponge!
Young jockeys need to be a sponge, soak everything up and practice. Success only comes from dedication and hard work.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m not sure. I’ve been battling with it a little. I know that I can’t keep riding forever but I will stay in the industry. It’s my industry and I’m not going anywhere!
After the win at Balnarring, everyone said ‘What a way to finish’, but I’m not concerned how I finish, I’ve had my riding career.
Maybe I’ll give riding more of a go next season, I would need to stick my nose down, get the weight off and be able to ride a few more. We’ll see.
How does it feel not to have a concrete plan for the coming years?
It’s unnerving. I didn’t give the future a second thought when I was younger, in my 30’s I was having a ball. Now I’ve hit my 40’s I keep thinking ‘What will I be doing when I’m 50?’
You never know what’s around the corner.
What do you think the future holds for picnic racing?
It seems to be coasting along. There’s so much racing at the moment that we’ve got a pool of horses that can be pushed back to the picnics. It’s very, very popular with the racing public and prize money is slowly increasing. However much prizemoney increases though people will always want more.
As a trainer, I’d like to see further improvement with the tracks, the horses welfare comes first and foremost.
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Images courtesy of Naomi Seccombe Photography.