While most people are busy gorging themselves on festive fodder, Christmas can be a challenging time for jockeys, particularly those that count every gram. With Boxing Day one of the premier days of racing on the New Zealand calendar, jockeys are prepared to forgo what others enjoy as they ply their trade the day after Christmas.
One of the many going the extra mile is 21-year-old Ryan Elliot, one of the rising stars of the jockeys’ ranks. The Hamilton-based rider is tall for a jockey and has to closely watch his weight but has even greater incentive this year as he prepares to ride Rock On Wood in the Group 1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic (2000m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day.
Not only is the six-year-old gelding the $4.20 favourite to win the Group 1 feature, he is trained by Elliot’s mother Leanne, who also part owns the horse with her sister Yvonne and mother Jill Ker.
“I am on my way to Levin today (Wednesday) to spend a day with the wider family and then Mum and I are travelling back to Hamilton tomorrow,” Elliot said. “I won’t be doing anything for Christmas. I will probably be sitting in the spa.”
Rock On Wood will also make the Levin to Hamilton journey ahead of time and will be based at Graeme and Debbie Rogerson’s Tuhikaramea property. The son of Redwood provided the emerging rider with his maiden Group 1 success when winning the Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) at Trentham earlier this month and has trained on well since that performance.
“Mum rang me last week after he galloped and said ‘woohoo’ – he felt really good,” Elliot said. “She told me that after the Captain Cook he was bucking in his paddock and got straight into his feed, so it’s a pretty encouraging sign.”
Drawn barrier three, Elliot is mindful that the Zabeel Classic could be run sedately, which has undone the back-marker previously. “He hasn’t got the best record at 2000m. He is always dashing home late or running into a bit of trouble,” Elliot said. “From the good gate we might be able to get a soft sectional in the race and hopefully pop off the fence somewhere.
“He is probably better ridden a bit cold, but it is a big race and you can’t be too far back. “Last year in the Bonecrusher (Group 1, 2000m) we got too far back and had to make up too much ground. He still ran home sub 33 seconds (for the last 600m) but with all of those better horses in front of you, it’s hard to run them down. I’ve just got to keep the leaders in my sights and make sure they’re going enough of a gallop and I don’t have too much ground to make up.”
Elliot is looking forward to riding in front of a bumper Ellerslie crowd and hopefully landing more success for the family. “Boxing Day is always a great day and to win a Group 1 at Ellerslie would be something else,” he said.
Elliot will also partner the Team Rogerson-trained De La Terre in the Group 2 Jamieson Park Eight Carat Classic (1600m), who steps back up to a mile after a second placing behind smart galloper Brando over 1200m last start.
“She galloped really well yesterday morning and if she could get a nice soft lead, or an economical trip in the running, I think she could see out the mile and be a good chance,” Elliot said.