By Ray Hickson
There’s no way trainer Mark Newnham is going to let the champion apprentice title go to Robbie Dolan’s head with new challenges facing the star young rider next season.
He doesn’t see that as a problem, the 23-year-old Irishman has a decent dash of modesty about him, but Newham says everything that happens from now is a steep class rise.
Dolan is about to extend his apprenticeship to take advantage of the 26 city wins he has left before he loses his 1.5kg claim and Newnham is already preparing him for life after that allowance.
“Robbie’s riding has improved no end but as I have said to him it needs to because as you whittle down that claim you can’t make the same mistakes as when you claim three,’’ Newnham said.
“It won’t be long before he has no claim and is riding on equal footing with (Hugh) Bowman and (James) McDonald and the rest of them.
“The thing he has in his favour is he’s very light and can ride any weight so when we get into carnival time his chance will come in one of the big handicap races.’’
It’s been nothing short of a breakout season for Dolan.
His story has been well documented and in the space of just over two years he’s gone from obscurity to the top of the charts, from thinking he’s only an outside chance of snatching the apprentices’ title to being a runaway winner.
Back in early January, when Dolan was just starting to gain traction in the city, he’d ridden 12 metro wins but that figure quadrupled by his final city meeting of the season last weekend.
At 48 winners he fell just short of joining an exclusive club of champion apprentices to ride 50 city winners in a season – had suspension not cost him the final three meetings he’d more than likely have reached that mark.
“I hadn’t long started training when he started with me so I was trying to get my own business going as well as him,’’ Newnham recalled.
“We’ve both come a long way in a short time. For him to be the leading apprentice it’s a great achievement from where he started.
“He’s had to adapt to living in a different country, a different style of riding on different tracks and he’s taken to it really well.
“I didn’t expect he would do this well because getting to that level is very hard. He’s very good back in the field which a lot of apprentices aren’t.
“He’s been able to win a lot of races picking his way through the field and riding a race so that generally tells you he’s above average. Wayne Harris has managed him well and given him good advice so it’s been a great team effort.’’
The last apprentice to successfully defend a premiership was Sam Clipperton in 2013-14 and if Dolan is to achieve that feat he’ll probably ride for most of the season without a claim.
That’s something last season’s leading apprentice Rachel King had to endure. Then just two months into her first season as a senior rider she claimed her first Group 1 win, and Newnham's first, in last year’s Spring Champion Stakes on Maid Of Heaven.
Newnham sees similarities between King and Dolan and has no hesitation in tipping Dolan will make the grade long term.
“I’m sure he will, he has a really good work ethic, similar to Rachel, he’s looking to improve all the time,’’ he said.
“There’s no big headedness to him, there’s not one day he doesn’t come and do his work in the stable. He still does his Sunday shift every second week just like the other staff.
“Just because he’s this year’s leading apprentice there’s no special allowances for him.’’
The apprentice ranks will change shape a little in 2019-20 with Dolan obviously on the countdown to losing his claim, this season’s runner-up Sam Weatherley is heading back to New Zealand and there’s sure to be new faces coming along.
Newnham has the ‘next Robbie Dolan’ waiting in the wings in 20-year-old Tom Sherry, another Irishman, but it will be a while before he’s unleashed in the city.
“I’ve got another good one but I’m probably going to hold him back first season and be a second season (in town) like Robbie,’’ Newnham said.
“He’ll start riding as soon as his clearance is through.’’