Kiwi jockey Michael Walker made the most of his limited opportunities last Saturday as he notched the 25th Group 1 win of his career with a textbook ride on Odeum to win the Group 1 Thousand Guineas (1600m) at Caulfield. The Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr-trained filly was Walker’s sole ride for the day in what is an ultra-competitive Melbourne scene and not for the first time this year, the hoop cashed in.
Earlier in the year he rode Tagaloa to victory in the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m) for compatriots Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young, with the Lord Kanaloa colt his only ride for the day. Walker, who shot to stardom as an apprentice in New Zealand, has not always been everyone’s cup of tea since relocating to Australia as a 20-year-old. But 16 years on the talented horseman is in a good head space and continues to show his skill when given an opportunity on the big stage.
“I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m focussed more than ever. I’m really enjoying my riding, I am loving it,” Walker said. “I am riding in the toughest, strongest jurisdiction in Australia, in Victoria. I think we have an amazing bunch of jockeys, whether it is the younger kids or the older guys. It is really cutthroat at the moment and all I can do is keep working hard and keep trying to improve my raceday riding which I am happy with at the moment.
“I think a lot of the bigger stables and owners have their set jockeys and all I can do is my best. “I have got to think long term where I want to end up and what I want in life at the end of my riding career. With my two kids in New Zealand, Kase and Layla and now Kai I want to be able to leave them something and provide them with some sort of substantial future. “If I can put a smile on owners’ faces every time I ride their horses then that puts a smile on mine.”
Walker hopes he can shine on the biggest of stages this spring when he links with the Sir Owen Glenn-owned Dashing Willoughby in Saturday’s Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), with the main aim the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) for the Andrew Balding-trained galloper.
With Glenn one of Walker’s key supporters, the jockey has committed to ride the Group 2 winning five-year-old, forgoing the ride on the Charlie Fellowes-trained Prince Of Arran on whom Walker has enjoyed great success over the past two years. In addition to winning the Group 3 Lexus Stakes (2500m) and the Group 3 Geelong Cup (2400m) on Prince Of Arran, Walker has also ridden the stayer into third and second placings in the past two editions of the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m).
“I’ve been going out to quarantine (at Werribee) and what makes it worse is Prince of Arran is in the box next to Dashing Willoughby,” Walker said. “Charlie Fellowes has done a tremendous job with Prince of Arran, he looks the best I have seen him look but I have to push that out of my mind because I am focussed on winning a Caulfield and Melbourne Cup on Dashing Willoughby. “I made the decision to ride him and I’m very happy with my decision.”
While expecting his charge to be competitive in the Caulfield Cup on Saturday for which he is rated a $21 prospect, Walker believes Dashing Willoughby has the perfect profile for a Melbourne Cup.