Brock Ryan is small of stature, so it’s not surprising that people were always suggesting that he should become a jockey; what is surprising, though, is that the 22-year-old has been fated as racing’s next big thing by some of the sport’s greatest names.
It started with a Lee Freedman Tweet, ‘Mark down the name Brock Ryan. Can ride’. Jockey Brent Thompson responded, ‘hey didn’t miss that young man today, big future’.
Trainer Lee Freedman has won most of Australia’s big races; Brent Thompson, who won four Cox Plates as a child prodigy in the 1970s, has raced around the world and is a New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame inductee.
Within days, two of Australia’s greatest jockeys were singing his praises in media reports, too: Darren Beadman, “I haven’t seen an apprentice advance so quickly at such a short time;” Jim Cassidy, who has mentored Ryan, “He has plenty of boxes to tick off yet. He’s very motivated, he’s a good listener and he’s patient. He can only keep asking for advice and keep wanting to improve and that’s what he’s shown me.”
The Independent caught up with Ryan last week while he was spending a week at the family home in Yamba, following a suspension at his home track, Kembla Grange.
Ryan had not even touched a horse until about two and a half years ago, but after getting a “bit bored working in Yamba at the caravan park” he decided it was time for a change.
His interest in the sport was limited to “going down the pub and watching the races”.
“I never thought I’d do it,” he says, “but I had so many people telling me to try being a jockey.
“Once I got on the back of a horse it just sort of clicked. I knew my uncle had shares in a horse and I texted him one day and said: ‘Do you reckon you can get me a start being a jockey?’”
Soon enough he found himself riding track work for Kembla Grange trainers, Paul and Bede Murray, who said it “would be around five years” before he started racing.
“I was with them for about a year and they taught me how to ride horses and all of the stable side of things,” Ryan says. “I rode six trials, and from there I felt like I could have been progressing a bit faster than I was.”
Another Kembla Grange trainer, Gwenda Markwell, who is now his master, enticed Ryan to her stable.
“She had an offer there for me, because she thought I had potential. She had two senior jockeys riding track work for her and a lot of track work riders as well. I thought if I went there, I would learn a heap more.
“I signed on as an apprentice, but you have to ride 20 trials before you actually start racing; so I was still at the stage of becoming an apprentice; she taught me a lot and I progressed quickly to get to where I am now.”
It took only two years for Ryan to weigh in for his first race, despite spending five months out of the saddle after a horse “flipped over” onto him and broke his pelvis in two places.
This could have been a career-ending injury for someone who hadn’t yet ridden in a race?
“Because I moved away and left everything behind, I didn’t want to just give up, so I went back to it,” Ryan says. “I enjoyed it before it happened, so I didn’t see any reason to not go back and do it again.”
Ryan says he loves horses, although “you get the occasional horse you can’t stand, but a lot of them have great natures. They earn you money so you’ve got to treat them right.
“I’ve always been told it’s all about balance and rhythm; if you can keep your horse balanced and running in a nice rhythm, if they want to run, they’ll run because that’s what they are taught to do.”
His first competitive race was at Kembla Grange on Melbourne Cup day, November1, 2015 – on that day he rode four placed horses and, a week later, after a total of nine rides, he won his first race “at a little place called Adaminaby”.
He rates his best win as “probably a few weeks ago, when I rode two winners for the Godolphin stable, which is one of the biggest stables in the world”.
On the high praise he has garnered from some of Australia’s horse racing greats, he says: “It gives you a lot of confidence, but you don’t want to get a big head; you just take it on board. I ask them for advice whenever I can.
“When you’ve got people like that saying those kinds of things about you, you know you‘ve got a bit of potential, I suppose; but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Weighing in at 48 kilograms, it’s unlikely Ryan will have to worry too much about wasting to make handicap weights. Statistically, from his 282 career rides he has placed 89 times (31.5 per cent) and, of those, won 30 times (10 per cent).
At his home track, Kembla Grange, his winning percentage is 14.6 per cent and his place percentage is 33.3 percent.
Ambition wise, Ryan says: “In the next few years I’d like to move to Sydney and ride up there.
“If I dream big, I’d like to do a season in Hong Kong.”
Note: media quotes are from a story, Four legends anoint racing’s next big thing, written by Matt Kelly and published on the G1X horse racing website.