Tue. Aug 9th, 2022

Who said this riding coat was a young man’s game?

Watch Saturday’s Caulfield Cup, Brett Prebble rides favorite Incentivize, he’s 44. Damien Oliver, who is still chasing the race record and who has set himself a heavy task to do so at Delphi is 49, while Craig Williams at Nonconformist is 43.

Not that you think any of these talented athletes and tough competitors need a zimmer frame to get the leg up or even see them as “old”, but the extraordinary thing is that Oliver would become the oldest jockey to win the Caulfield Cup if he gets Delphi home on Saturday, a record he would look forward to taking by Bobbie Lewis, who was 47 when Manfred won in 1926.

While Oliver won his first Caulfield Cup when he was only 20, but we think 16-year-old Frank Dempsey at Lavendo in 1915 got him covered for the youngest title. Still a rare effort Ollie!

On the eve of each Caulfield Cup, Oliver is the focus of traditional softball history as he tries to resemble the legendary Scobie Breasley’s record. Scobie won his five in 10 years between 1942 and 1952, but was only 38 when he completed the quintet on Peshawar.

And remarkably, he was alive to cheer on Ollie for joining him with the Caulfield Cup record. Oliver’s last victory came last century, 1999, at Sky Heights, before Breasley died in 2006 at the age of 92.

Oliver won his first four in eight years from Mannerisim (92) to Paris Lane (94), Doriemus (95) and Sky Heights, but it has been frustrating placements at Sky Heights (two years later) then Fields Of Omagh, Distinctly Secret and Exospheric side.

And therefore part of the reason during a sleepless Saturday night he decided, with a little support and the support of his wife Trish, that after qualifying Delphi for the Cup through Herbert Power, he would ride 53 kg for the first time since 2009 (when he ran last time at Warringah in a Melbourne Cup), commits to the challenge.

Neds Herbert Power Stakes

Delphi (IRE) ridden by Damien Oliver wins Herbert Power Stakes at Caulfield.

“I’m not the one looking too far ahead and I’m not getting younger, so I thought at my age the days of getting good rides in a Caulfield Cup are more numbered,” Oliver said.

While pointing out that he came to 53.5 kg for Russian Camelot last year in the Caulfield Cup, another reference would be that he had to lose two kilos just to ride 55 kg on Saturday.

“And it was a task,” he added. “This week it’s a proper diet, serious exercise, no soda or sugar and just staying active.”

Which means a binge of a different kind. Oliver will do the hard yards on the treadmill while gorging on the popular streaming series Ted Lasso. He’s only for series one from today, so there’s plenty to eat.

“It is also about cutting out the relaxing food and getting into a good routine. I always feel like a little sugar and lollies for energy so they are out, it’s fruits and vegetables, brown rice and smaller portions.

“I’ve always been paying attention five days a week to what to eat and then breaking out and eating plain food and having a few beers on the weekends, but not even that after Saturday.”

It was a bit of cricket training in the park for Oliver and son Luke on Sunday and then into the routine for Delphi. He gets a game of his beloved golf this week; he plays a handicap of five these days.

“I got nine holes the other day, but I just want to do everything I can to stay active and focused this week, I think it’s as much a mental thing as physical.

“But Trish has promised to chain me to the treadmill and make sure we have the right food and diet, so that’s great support,” he said.

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Oliver has been in this game long enough to chalk up to 123 Group 1 victories and write a record book that the youngsters can forever chase his glory can only envy.

But he is a realist, he knows he is closer to the end of his career, but says no expiration date has been stamped.

“To be honest, I just take it year after year, I’m not in the too distant future, one day I wake up and know when I’ve had enough, but it’s not now,” he said.

“I am competitive by nature and I enjoy my job, I consistently do a lot more work, need to go to more meetings and maybe train a little less, but you have to do the yards and support those who support you like Godolphin and Troy Corstens.

“One thing in this game is your form, no matter how successful you’re been, it’s a fashion industry, so you have to keep performing,” Oliver said.

And that said it all, while Oliver has often kept the mantra “form is temporary, class is permanent”, but has even accepted the modern demands.

“Generations always come through. I was one of them when I started, but being squeezed together by the younger jockeys is the best way to test yourself and be a competitive person who has been amazing. I thrive on that. ”

But at Oliver’s age, he understands that the balance of life and work is just as important with his eldest daughter Niali, 17, who finished year 12 at Wesley College, he has, like many of us, adapted to homeschooling regimes for lockdown life.

“I think she’s more focused on the sports psychological bend, as for Zara, she’s in year nine and without direction where she wants to go,” he said.

And Luke, while sports addicted, Oliver does not think he will carry the surname into a career in the saddle.

“I worked as a coach and runner for his football team (Port Melbourne Colts) before the last lockdown, we got about seven games in, but he loves all his sports but has not shown a tendency to become a jockey yet.”

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Another thing lockdown has done to make Oliver’s life even more is his superstition.

A Friday before a major Group 1 always meant a new haircut.

“The last haircut I got was from family for Father’s Day at home,” he said.

“But I may have a new one, I signed a Best Bets for a good friend last Friday and had a pretty good day on Saturday, so I may have to sign one every Friday.”

And what about Delphi? “He’s a fast-paced stayer who can keep a gallop. I’m happy to be on him. ”

It took Oliver well 31 years to register his second Caulfield Guineas victory at Anamoe last week. So what’s 21 for the record equivalent to the fifth Caulfield Cup and the oldest jockey to win it.

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For statistical completeness re Oliver and Caulfield Cup (and a big thank you to Malcolm McLaren from Form Focus.

Bobbie Lewis had the last in his record with 27 Caulfield Cup rides at the age of 52 (he finished second) and finished with two wins and three places. Oliver will have his 27th lap on Saturday in the race to equal Lewis’ record and edged past Harry White – 26 laps in two wins and five seconds.

Oliver with his four placements since Sky Heights in 1999 also has five-quarters and two-fifths in the trophy, and his record of runners-under $ 11 is 14 trips to 4 wins, two seconds, one-third, three-quarters and one-fifth.

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