By Ray Hickson
Champion jockey Kerrin McEvoy is acutely aware of the challenge facing him when he takes over the reins on cult galloper Tom Melbourne at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
It’s a daunting task to coax a win out of a horse with a reputation, fairly or unfairly earned, for not winning – especially in the time-honoured Group 1 $3m The Star Doncaster Mile (1600m).
But McEvoy revealed he’s been in a situation like this before during his time riding in England over a decade ago.
“Back in England there was a horse over there that was quite quirky called Bulwark,’’ McEvoy said.
“He was a gelding that, more often than not, would loom up and always run second or third.
“I had a good association with him and he was a bit of a quirky horse. He helped my profile because no-one could win on him.
“I don’t mind riding the quirky ones so hopefully I can put that to good use.’’
McEvoy rode Bulwark 11 times in a 16-month period for trainer Amanda Perrett in the mid-2000s for five wins and no other jockey could find the trick to him.
The likes of Michael Kinane, Ryan Moore and Johnny Murtagh all tried but couldn’t get Bulwark across the line.
The horse eventually changed stables after 29 starts and in another 24 would only win twice more.
McEvoy hadn’t ridden Bulwark in a race prior to the gelding’s first win and the same can be said for Tom Melbourne, though McEvoy did trial the seven-year-old (who has five wins under his belt) at the start of this preparation.
And, funnily enough, Tom Melbourne won that trial.
“The way he felt in the trial I thought it could be his best prep,’’ McEvoy said.
“I did get a good feeling at the trials and it was a good day out for both of us. He hit the line nicely.’’
McEvoy will be the eleventh different jockey to ride Tom Melbourne since his last win in the Albury Cup of 2016 – they are Ben Melham, Steven Arnold, Dwayne Dunn, Joao Moreira, Mark Zahra, Craig Williams, Michael Walker, Blake Shinn, Damien Oliver and Glen Boss.
He’s finished second on nine occasions and third two times including Group 1 placings in the Epsom, Cantala and Railway Stakes.
Tom Melbourne, of course, resumed with a first-up second in the Group 2 Ajax Stakes (1500m) on March 17 where he loomed as the winner but was outgunned by stablemate Comin’ Through.
Tom Melbourne's first-up run in the Ajax Stakes at Rosehill on March 17
Punters Intel reveals he did run the equal fastest last 200m (11.65) and the second fastest last 600m (33.87) behind subsequent Doncaster Prelude winner Cellarman (who ran fourth).
He drops 4.5kg into the Doncaster Mile but will need a magic McEvoy ride after Tom Melbourne’s sparring partner Ron Dufficy drew barrier 14 having been given the job by OTI Racing.
“It’s important to get the right spot in running and the planning will start now,’’ McEvoy said.
“I suppose the key is not making it too hard for him by timing his run. You have to trick him into thinking he’s going better than he is.
“I’m happy to be on the horse and am hoping to get the job done.’’
Championships Day 1 promises to be a big one for McEvoy with the plum ride on top sprinter Redzel (TJ Smith), plus Don’t Give A Damn (Country Championships), Long Leaf (Inglis Sires’), Belfast (ATC Derby) and Luvaluva (Adrian Knox) among others.
But all eyes will turn to Tom Melbourne come 4.30pm. Aside from earning the ‘genius’ title from punters, what sort of prize awaits McEvoy if he is able to achieve what so many others haven’t?
“Ron Dufficy will shout me dinner I think.”