By Ray Hickson
You don’t need to tell Blaike McDougall how much momentum a suspension can cost an apprentice.
He estimates spending almost half of last season on the sidelines through suspensions including the period we’re now in where apprentices flourish while the leading riders are interstate.
The top nine riders on the Sydney premiership table are absent from the Rosehill meeting on Saturday.
So after a city win at Randwick last weekend, his first in two months, you can imagine the 23-year-old is keen to take advantage of some prime opportunities to help raise his profile through the month of November.
“Last season was shocking, probably my worst one yet,’’ McDougall said.
“I ask myself the question, what am I doing wrong? I was always told I'm trying too hard.
“I used to get a bit anxious on the turns and be pushing out and not thinking. I missed out on when the boys went to Melbourne and those good options to come to town.’’
McDougall’s story has been well documented. How he threw away his career a few years ago and had to work overtime to regain the industry’s trust.
He credits his master, John Thompson, for giving him that second chance and sees things a lot clearer since the birth of his daughter Penelope with partner Danielle four months ago.
“I try to be clear headed, we recently had a baby and that's all the more reason to not get suspended,’’ he said.
“I find support is the hardest thing for apprentices, especially in Sydney. It’s strange, for some apprentices it happens and others struggle and I'm not too sure why.
“You're not riding winners because you are riding any better, you're just getting on the right horses. You can't ride those horses every week unfortunately.’’
McDougall, with only one suspension against him this season, is particularly excited about the return of Waitandwatch in the AMWU Handicap (1100m) on Saturday having partnered the gelding to four wins from as many starts last summer.
The six-year-old has had a couple of setbacks ahead of his first-up run but McDougall said if trainer Angela Davies has him ready on Saturday he’ll ride the horse with confidence.
“I've been waiting for a long time for him to come back,’’ he said.
“I know what Angela's like with them first-up, she's a speciality at it and he was very well placed last prep.
“He's a monster but a very well natured horse. He begins so well, he travels well and does everything right. I've no doubt he is ready to take that step.’’
Waitandwatch's last start win at Gosford in January
Crafty Cop was dual accepted by Team Hawkes and, much to McDougall’s delight, he’s running in the Bradford Solar Handicap (1400m).
The four-year-old was runner-up to My Country at Randwick two weeks ago over 1200m and McDougall said when he rode the horse first-up he was convinced he’s looking for more ground.
“I watched his run the other day, it was super, if we got a bit of rain it would suit him,’’ he said.
Of all his rides at Randwick, McDougall is particularly keen to win on Slow Burn in the Blacktown Workers Handicap (1100m).
With Tim Clark, who has ridden the mare exclusively, interstate on Saturday, McDougall wants to repay trainer Les Bridge for giving him another chance after letting him down last weekend.
He rode Pelorus Jack for Bridge but the horse proved difficult to handle and the apprentice accepted some of the responsibility for it.
“I'm looking forward to redeeming myself,’’ McDougall said.
“Les gave me a ride at Randwick last Saturday and he told me to ride it quiet but the horse raced very fresh.
“I put my hand up, it wasn't one of my best but I was half a victim. I'll be going out there with every intention to repay Les.’’
Slow Burn has won two of her five starts and was narrowly beaten into third place behind Osborne Bulls at Canterbury on October 18.
“She's been carrying a bit of weight so she won't know herself with the 3kg claim off her back,’’ he said.