By Ray Hickson
It could be a red letter day for the Gibbons family at Taree on Tuesday but regardless of the results jockey Andrew Gibbons will walk away a very proud man.
On the fourth last day of the 2019-20 racing season, the 42-year-old has the chance to secure the NSW Jockeys Premiership and ride in the same race as his son Dylan when he makes his riding debut at the meeting.
Gibbons sits on 121 winners for the season, trailing the suspended Blaike McDougall by 1.5 wins, and though he says premierships, aside from his local Newcastle title which he’s now won three times, aren’t a huge focus an opportunity has presented itself.
After finishing second in 2018-19 with a personal best of 137 he’s out to claim his first state title with seven rides at Taree plus mounts at Hawkesbury and Wyong later in the week to end the season.
“It’d be great to do it but if I don’t I’m not going to walk away and say it hasn’t been a good season. It’s still been a great season,’’ Gibbons said.
“It’s one of those things, if Blaike didn’t get suspended I wouldn’t have got a sniff. His bad luck has been my good luck, so it’d be a nice bonus.
“Before last year it was a matter of wanting to beat the previous year but when I got to 137 I thought it would be hard to beat.
“I don’t normally set a number or premiership goal, the only premiership I keep an eye on is the Newcastle one because I love winning the local premiership and I managed to do that again this season.’’
As is his norm, the bulk of Gibbons’ rides at Taree are for Kris Lees, who will wrest the NSW title from Chris Waller this season, and he says he wouldn’t be where he is without the champion Newcastle trainer.
Fifty four of his 121 wins this season have come for Lees, last season it was 79 of his 137 wins.
“Kris has been brilliant for my career,’’ he said.
“There’s no hiding the fact I wouldn’t be getting the numbers I get to if it wasn’t for him.’’
Gibbons pointed to three Lees runners at Taree as his best winning chances – La Girl in the Stacks Law Firm Plate (1250m), Jaja Chaboogie in the Adrian Owen Equine Vet Handicap (1250m) and Illecebrous in the Galoots Handicap (1250m).
La Girl is coming off a first-up third on a heavy track at Kensington on July 1 while Jaja Chaboogie is a last start Tamworth maiden winner and Illecebrous has put successive wins together at Port Macquarie and Grafton.
“I’ve ridden La Girl a bit of work since (her last run) and she’s pretty impressive,’’ he said.
“She has the feel of a very nice horse, the conditions are probably going to play a part in it and she handles them.
“Illecebrous has a tricky draw but she has been super impressive. She was brilliant at Grafton but that was on top of the ground. She has 60kg with the wide draw, a wet track could be a thorn in her side but she is flying.
“Jaja Chaboogie was good on a wet track and is bred to handle tracks like this. They are my best rides but I’d say La Girl would be the best of them.’’
Imagine, then, the scenario if Gibbons has booted home a couple in the first five races and attention turns to his son in the sixth, riding a short priced favourite in his first professional race.
Dylan Gibbons’ riding debut was actually scheduled for Cessnock on Monday but with rain putting paid to that program it comes at Taree and Andrew Gibbons said it could be a blessing in disguise.
The 18-year-old will ride Star Raider, $2 with TAB, for Lees in the Book Now Taree Cup Handicap (1000m) having partnered the gelding to his latest trial victory when defeating Le Romain at Newcastle on July 20.
The elder Gibbons, who rides Nicconi Lass in the race, believes Lees has given his son every chance to make a successful debut.
“We’ve purposely held him back and made him take a bit longer than most kids, I’ve always been of the belief apprentices get to the races a bit too soon,’’ Gibbons said.
“So I wanted to make sure he was really ready and because of that he’s probably more anxious to get to the races than nervous, he’s very ready to go.
“It’d be nice if Dylan could kick his career off with a winner. He is on the right horse to win but if he does all the right things and gets beaten it doesn’t matter because he’s out there showing people he can do what needs to be done and I’m sure opportunities will come.
“But if I can get a couple and Dylan rides a winner I don’t think you could get a better day than that.”