New Zealand jockey Trevor Bau’s life over the past two decades reads something like a Boy’s Own classic, but last Saturday at Trentham he was back doing what he enjoys most, riding a winner.
The 57-year-old journeyman’s first success in more than 12 years came in the best possible circumstances.
WRC Life Members’ Gold Cup (1400m) winner Kingston Flyer is trained by Bau’s wife Donna Beck, who races him in partnership with her sister-in-law Rhonda Bau. Completing the family affair, Kingston Flyer was strapped by the couple’s son Oliver.
Bau began his career in the early 1980s with Takanini trainer Cliff Fenwick.
“My family had no connection with racing but I was sporty and small at school, so someone suggested I should become a jockey,” he said.
“Norm Holland put in a word for me when Brian York was coming to the end of his apprenticeship with Cliffy, and Roy McKay and I were his next two.”
Natural lightweight is a description that fits Bau, almost to an extreme.
“I was so small I didn’t get to have my first ride until I was 18, and even then I weighed only 37 kilos,” he said.
Bau rode 26 winners as an apprentice and his career since has included time in the South Island as well as offshore stints.
“I’ve ridden winners in Australia, including Kaye Tinsley’s first city winner at Eagle Farm, plus time in Samoa and New Caledonia. I ended up in the South Island, which is where I met Donna, and when she got the job with Trackside we moved up to Wellington.
“Around the same time the Lord of the Rings trilogy was beginning production and I figured I might fit in there, so I signed up with the Stunt Guild of New Zealand and ended up on the Lord of the Rings set.”
That opened up a whole new world to Bau, whose riding skills were called upon as a stand-in for other cast members who might have come up short in that department.
“The next four years were great, I was involved in lots of stunt work, falling off horses, fight scenes, that sort of thing. I rubbed shoulders with a whole lot of name actors; one I specially remember was Orlando Bloom when I was the stand-in for the dwarf Gimli. You wouldn’t know it was me after I had spent hours in make-up having all the prosthetics added.
“The amazing thing in all that time is I didn’t suffer any injury, which is a bit ironic I suppose when I think of the various injuries I’ve had as a jockey.”
Life beyond Lord of the Rings meant further stunt work on productions such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Up The Creek, a spoof on the hit move Deliverance, the television series Lost World and the Christmas black comedy Krampus.
“I got to work with Burt Reynolds on Up The Creek and others I worked with were Bob Hoskins and Toni Collette – I played the part of a scary dwarf who had to make her cry.”
COVID-19 lockdown brought a halt to the productions Bau was involved in, but more recently he has found further work with an Amazon series. All the while he has continued to assist his wife with the small racing team stabled on their four-acre property across the road from the Levin racecourse.
During the summer he had second placings at Awapuni and Trentham on Cabochon, while current stable star, Sacred Falls gelding Kingston Flyer, preceded his Trentham win with a first-up fourth and is set to back up at Wanganui on Saturday.
Bau’s previous win had come on the Beck-trained Pacific Jewel at Otaki in March 2009, and his most recent took his career tally to 49. In the eight seasons he has been active since, Bau has had just 36 raceday rides.
So what chance of breaking through the half-century mark this weekend?
“I think he’s improved on the run,” he said. “He’s got a very dedicated trainer and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was to step up again.
“Last Saturday was an absolute pleasure to do the business for Donna and my brother Russell’s wife Rhonda, who has been right behind us getting involved with these two horses.
“I suppose people might wonder why I hadn’t ridden a winner for so long, but when they read my story they’ll realise I’ve been having a ball. Life’s a highway and I’ve been riding it.”