Light fantastic: McEvoy ready to Rock ‘n’ roll
THE locals are so proud of Kerrin McEvoy there's talk of a statue being made in his honour.
The champion jockey, who put Streaky Bay on the map, went back to his childhood home on the west coast of South Australia as part of the Melbourne Cup tour two months ago and learned of plans to install a life-sized bronze statue of him in the middle of the town.
"It's a little bit embarrassing but also very humbling and great for my family to have our name celebrated this way,'' McEvoy said.
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McEvoy, who turns 39 later this month, was a guest at the local school during his Streaky Bay visit and was surprised to find two of his teachers still working there.
"My old teachers rattled off some of my stories I wrote at school and it was all about riding horses,'' he said. "It was certainly interesting to hear a few of those stories, it brought back a lot of memories.''
McEvoy was born into racing and was never going to follow any other pursuit but become a jockey. He learned how to ride at Streaky Bay, putting a few horses through their paces at trackwork in the morning for his grandfather Bill Holland before heading off to school.
"I was always knocking about with Pop, he was very influential in my development as a rider,'' he said.
His grandfather was a good teacher. Fast forward to today and McEvoy is regarded as a wonderful ambassador for the sport and recognised as one of the world's best jockeys with 76 Group 1 wins.
McEvoy's ridden the winners of three Melbourne Cups including Cross Counter last year, he's won the only two runnings of The TAB Everest on Redzel, two Golden Slippers and major race winners in England, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy.
McEvoy has won just about everything that is worth winning in Australian racing. Well, almost everything.
Despite McEvoy's outstanding riding record, it was surprising some to learn the champion jockey has never ridden the winner of either of Royal Randwick's famous "mile" races, the Epsom Handicap or Doncaster Mile.
"I haven't won a Epsom or a Doncaster,'' McEvoy confirmed. "It's something I want to try and correct.''
McEvoy gets an opportunity to finally set that record straight when he rides lightweight Rock in the Group 1 $1 million Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Rock, trained by Team Hawkes, secured an Epsom start with an outstanding last-to-first win in the Cameron Handicap at Newcastle last start.
It was Rock's third successive win from as many starts this campaign and piqued interest from McEvoy and his manager, Bryan Haskins.
"Because I can ride light, I rely a lot on Bryan's judgment when we are trying to find those improving horses that get into these big handicaps like an Epsom with an attractive weight,'' McEvoy said. "He's vital in keeping his ear to the ground and knowing what is going where.
"With Rock, we knew the horse as I have ridden him previously and Bryan was impressed by Rock's last start win.''
After McEvoy and Haskins sifted through their Epsom options, they landed on Rock, handicapped on 50.5kg and the $7 second favourite on TAB Fixed Odds.
"We try to wait a bit closer to these big races before making a decision because Kerrin does get offered so many lightweight rides,'' Haskins said.
"But you need to see how these horses are going in their preparations and although Rock was on our radar, he started his preparation off this spring winning a midweek race at Canterbury.
"Kerrin was able to ride the horse at his second run in when he won at the 'Kenso' so we knew the horse was going well. Then Rock was very impressive in the Cameron when Tommy (Berry) rode him.
"I spoke to Kerrin after that race and my recommendation was to take the ride on Rock in the Epsom. Rock has a great turn of foot and after the horse got a 0.5kg penalty, we could ride him at 51kg. I told him I think it is worth wasting to get down to 51kg for the Epsom.''
McEvoy agreed and began a strict two week fitness and diet regimen to peel 3kg off his lean frame. Most day, he has only a bowl of porridge for breakfast, some fruit for lunch and usually fish for dinner.
"I have been eating small meals the last couple of weeks, I'm doing plenty of walking and also gym sessions,'' McEvoy said. "I'm not skipping meals as such but I'm cutting down on the portions I'm eating and keeping my fluid intake to a minimum.
"I wouldn't want to be doing this every week but I have a big race to get up for, it's worth doing for Rock and this is part of my job.''
McEvoy has not ridden this light since he got down to 51kg before winning on Cross Counter in the Melbourne Cup last November.
Haskins said McEvoy copes better with wasting that many jockeys.
"When Kerrin's wasting, I don't really notice any difference in him personality-wise,'' Haskins said. "Some jockeys do it very tough but Kerrin's pretty much the same all the time.
"He has a good handle on how to lose the weight and it doesn't get too him so much. When he won the Cup on Cross Counter, you wouldn't have known he had been wasting.''
McEvoy has ridden Rock in three of his eight starts, for two wins and a luckless second in the Gold Coast Magic Millions Maiden back in January.
But Rock has returned as a four-year-old a stronger horse this spring and although he is the most inexperienced runner in the Epsom, the gelding has the talent to win the big race, according to McEvoy.
"I feel Rock is a horse on the right path,'' the jockey said.
"He has a good turn of foot and the Randwick mile suits him. His racing style is quite 'barnstorming' when he's finishing well so he has the right credentials.
"It was exciting to see what he did at his last two runs and the Hawkes team has him in good shape for the Epsom.''
McEvoy, who is 11th on the all-time list for most Group 1 wins by an Australian jockey, has a real chance of a big-race clean sweep on Saturday as he also rides $6 equal favourite Brimham Rocks in the $750,000 The Metropolitan (2400m) and Probabeel, the $2.10 second favourite for the $500,000 Flight Stakes (1600m).
The Chris Waller-trained Brimham Rocks was ridden by McEvoy when edged out narrowly by stablemate Patrick Erin in The Metropolitan last year.
Both stayers are in the field again on Saturday but Brimham Rocks has returned to form winning the Naturalism Stakes at Caulfield last start while Patrick Erin is rated a $151 outsider.
"It was good to see Brimham Rocks win in Melbourne and he looks hard to beat in The Metropolitan,'' McEvoy said. "We nearly won it last year so hopefully he can go one better.''
Probabeel was a close second to Funstar in the Tea Rose Stakes last start and the two fillies are expected to fight out the finish again in the Flight Stakes.
"She put in a great run last time and gets the extra furlong (a200m) which will suit her,'' McEvoy said. "It's going to be a very good clash with Funstar again.''
A successful Epsom meeting could set up a memorable spring carnival for the champion jockey who also has Redzel on track for the $14 million The TAB Everest (2400m) at Royal Randwick on October 19, is in the running for the mount on Avilius in the $5 million Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley on October 26, and could ride either Finche or Cross Counter in the $8 million Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on November 2.
"I'm looking forward to riding Redzel in a barrier trial at Gosford next Tuesday,'' McEvoy said. "I've won more races on Redzel (nine) than any other horse I've ridden so let's see if we can make it 10 (in The Everest).
"For Melbourne, I'm waiting to hear what Chris Waller decides with Finche, and I'm a chance to ride Avilius and Cross Counter for Godolphin.
"William Buick gets first choice on the Godolphin runners so what he is doing will determine what I'm riding. But the revamped Sydney spring and the Melbourne carnival is giving a lot of options for trainers, jockeys and owners.
"There are some wonderful races with big prizemoney and hopefully that will get injected back into the industry. It's an exciting time for our racing.''
The form that McEvoy is in this spring carnival, they can't build that statue fast enough at Streaky Bay.