Toby Lake, 18, has grown up with horses, dad Steven Lake is a trainer and before that was a jockey.
Toby went from Pony Club to working for Bendigo-based Shane Fliedner 4 years ago and while riding track work got ‘the bug’ for race riding.
A career as a Professional jockey eluded Toby as he was too big to make the weight so instead he turned his focus to the Picnics and hasn’t looked back. He rode for his first season in 2014/15 and received the Dennis Foy Memorial Up and Coming Rider Award, based on votes cast by senior picnic riders.
What was the highlight of your first season?
My first winner on Sudden Rush was for my father at Yea. It was a big moment for me, particularly as one of dad’s good mates John McCall bred and raced the mare that she’s out of.
John got cancer and sent the mare to stud with a free service fee so Sudden Rush was worth nothing as a foal. Sadly John didn’t live to see her race and win at both the Picnics and Professionals but we thought of him that day.
Another highlight was riding three winners in one day at Healesville as a 3kg apprentice.
How has this season started out for you?
I’ve had 5 winners so far and a fair amount of placings so it’s started off well.
Are there any notable differences to the way you ride now compared to your first season?
I’ve worked on my style a lot and noticed a pretty big improvement. John and Troy Kilgower support me well, as does Mark Thomas. If I’m getting rides for the top 2 trainers from last season they must think that I ride ok.
You don’t realise how much you keep learning. You don’t get anywhere unless you have some ability but I work hard, am prepared to learn and try to stay level headed and friendly.
In my first season I had 9 winners which was great considering I had more limited opportunities then.
Have you got any horses for us to follow?
The Soprano, the horse that I won on last Saturday. He’s quite a nice little horse that won over a mile and looks like even further will be no worries, it was quite a good win and his second win this season. Robert Kingston had him in great order and maybe a picnic cup later in the season mightn’t be such a bad idea.
I’ve also ridden Mayfair Mogul for Mark Thomas in all his starts bar one this year. He won his maiden by 3 lengths and is currently underrated so think he’ll have a few wins this season. He’ll benefit from the run at Mansfield and is suited to the Picnics as likes to lead, find the rail then find a break before the turn.
How do you get on with the other jockeys?
Reece Goodwin’s my best mate and he was the one who got me into the Picnics. I’m pretty blessed, lots of new jockeys find it hard but I’m surrounded by some great people that support me.
I’m also good friends with Courtney Pace, I really look up to her and she’s very good to us younger riders. She can also be quite hard on you with criticism but it’s exactly what I need.
To have two of your best mates putting you forward for rides has been really lucky for me.
We share lifts and travel together and can get a bit sidetracked with song choices on the way up! I get nervous arriving at the races and it’s surprising how drained I can feel, especially after wasting.
Listening to music can help with the nerves and give me an energy boost. Then on the way home we discuss the day and work through any problems that we’ve had.
We’re all good friends but once we’re on the horses it gets competitive!
How do you manage the non-riding elements of your job?
It was pretty daunting at first but luckily for me my communication skills are good. I like to speak with trainers before I ride for them the first time, they ask me what I ride like. I always offer explanations to owners and trainers after my races.
On a Monday it can be busy organising rides for the week ahead. I’m also lucky to still be claiming but only have 2 or 3 winners until my claims gone. I’d like to think that trainers aren’t only interested in the claim and that I’ll still get good support.
People are very loyal on the Picnic Racing circuit so hopefully it won’t be a problem. It’ll be also good to have the claim gone too.
Have other jockeys or trainers given you any good advice?
Courtney told me to listen to all of the advice that people give me, then only take and use what works for me. It’s been the best bit of advice and is always in the back of my mind.
Has your dad given you advice from his riding days?
Dad’s big take on the Picnics is that the speed horses tend to win more, I’ve used his advice to get results on particular tracks.
He also told me as a more general rule to always get along with the horses, try not to fight against them and work with them, especially when coming down to the barriers.
What has been the most challenging aspect to being a jockey for you so far?
Forcing regulars off a horse due to my claim has been tough for me, particularly in the early days.
Learning how to manage and control my weight has also been challenging. One day I rode a horse in the Mansfield Cup for Barry Goodwin and struggled to get the weight so didn’t eat and wasted hard. We missed the jump at the start by a long way then only got beat by a nose. I was so hungry that I ate too much too quickly afterwards and on the way home had to pull over to be sick. I’m better at controlling my weight and eating now.
The other thing that was a challenge when I first started was trying to keep on everyone’s good side. I have learnt to keep my mouth shut sometimes and mind my own business.
You recently spoke out on Picnic Racing Live regarding your disappointment with the new whip ruling. Since the ruling has been put into place is it something that you’ve already noticed making a difference to the way that you ride or where horses finish?
Yes, greatly. animal activist groups have no idea what happens on Australia’s racing yards, we are so passionate about our horses and love looking after them. We put the horses first.
The new ruling affects a lot of different people. For example, if it stops stallions winning a Group 1 in their racing career then it will cost a lot when they go to stud.
One of the main problems for us Picnic riders is that we get fined the same amount as Professional riders yet we get a far lower fee for riding.
It’s taking some getting used to and instead of fully concentrating on winning the race you can find yourself counting how many times you’ve used the whip, especially in longer trips. There’s no limit in the last 100m but often you don’t need to use it then.
I’d like to think that the rule can be tweaked a bit in future so that it works for everyone.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing at the moment. I’ve thought about training but instead would maybe like to be foreman for a big Melbourne-based stable. I’ve always wanted to get into media and maybe present later in life. Whatever happens, I know that I’ll be in racing for life.
Is there anything that you can think of that would benefit the Picnics?
The Cranbourne Corinthian that Quilly Park sponsored was fantastic. I’d like to see more Picnic races at evening meetings, Cranbourne seem happy to put on 9 race cards.
It would also be great if the Picnics became more of a year round thing instead of just the 7 or 8 months as it is at the moment.
Listen to Toby talking about the whip ruling on Picnic Racing Live (recorded at Balnarring on December 5th) by clicking the Play arrow on the audio below.
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Photos courtesy of Naomi Seccombe Photography