Dedicated TV coverage of racing across Australia has created an extra commitment for winning jockeys.
Nowadays, riders of winners step off the scales to be confronted by an interviewer’s microphone. In most cases the sheer adrenaline rush that accompanies victory guarantees an upbeat response.
Post race dehydration is a common problem and you’ll occasionally see a jockey licking his or her lips during an interview. It’s a safe bet those riders are anxious to seek the refuge of the jockey’s room and some badly needed fluid. Others are “blowing” harder than the horse they’ve just steered to victory.
Jockeys are elite athletes in their own right and their fitness levels are crucial. You’d think regular race and trackwork riding would suffice, but some also undertake regular gym sessions.
It’s a pleasure to listen to Hugh Bowman’s controlled and measured assessment of a horse’s performance, or Tommy Berry’s animated review of a winning ride.
I can’t think of a jockey anywhere in Australia who displays more unbridled raw emotion than Josh Parr. It struck me initially when he won the Gr 1 Surround Stakes on Shoals a year ago - his one and only ride on the Fastnet Rock mare.
His infectious reaction isn’t reserved for Group 1 wins. Just watch him after he wins a Maiden Hcp at Wyong or Hawkesbury, especially for one of the smaller stables.
It was Mark Twain who said “All emotion is involuntary when genuine”.
Josh Parr was as genuine as ever when he spoke to Lizzie Jelfs on Sky Thoroughbred Central, after winning the Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes on Castelvecchio.
His emotion just bubbles to the surface in a most endearing way. He finished the interview with a cheerio call to his maternal Grandmother who is obviously his greatest fan and currently not in the best of health. “Grumbles this one was for you”, was his affectionate message.
Josh had never ridden a winner for trainer Richard Litt until Castelvecchio came along. “I’d had only a handful of rides for Richard, but last September I was delighted to accept his offer to ride a Dundeel colt he was pretty excited about”, recalled the jockey.
Castelvecchio’s win on Saturday took his earnings to a little over $1.6 million, a tremendous return on his $150,000 purchase price at the 2018 Inglis Classic Sale.
Josh has never forgotten Castelvecchio’s debut at a Canterbury night meeting only three months ago. He started at huge odds after two unspectacular trial efforts and settled down near last of the eleven runners. “I decided to take a shortcut on the turn, getting inside half a dozen horses on straightening up”, recalled Parr. “He got clear inside the 200 metres, but had no idea what he was doing. He ducked in and ducked out before putting paid to the leaders in two strides. Only top horses can do what he did that night”.
Three weeks later Castelvecchio contested the inaugural $2 million Inglis Millenium at Warwick Farm, going straight back to the tail of the field from a wide gate. “He dropped the bit completely at the 600 metres and I had to really ride him along”, recalled Josh. “He made the turn awkwardly and got himself wider than he needed to be. Accession actually got away from me on straightening, but coming to the 200 metres he just took off and flew past nice horses like Accession and Dawn Passage”.
Josh got the shock of his life when Castelvecchio continued to charge after passing the winning post. “He ran the 200 metres after the line as fast as he went the final section of the race”, recalled the jockey. “We were almost around to the back straight before I was able to pull him up. I remember thinking that this was a pretty special horse”.
Three weeks later Castelvecchio finished a pleasing enough third to Microphone and Cosmic Force in the 1200 metres Skyline Stakes, confirming Richard Litt’s belief that this was not a Golden Slipper horse.
“From that moment on the Sires Produce and Champagne Stakes were going to be his mission”, said Josh. “With the Sires over a month away Richard decided to keep him on the fresh side with a Randwick trial slotted in eight days before the race”.
Twelve runners lined up in the Inglis Sires on a Soft 7 track on the opening day of the Championships. Castelvecchio was the widest runner on the hometurn before taking significant ground off winner Microphone and runner up Loving Gaby. He dead heated for third with Slipper winner Kiamichi, less than a length from the winner.
One important thing happened in the race to convince Josh that the colt could race handier in the Champagne Stakes. “For the first time he bounded straight onto the bridle and would have settled closer had we not been shaved by another runner early in the race”, recalled the jockey.
His judgement was borne out when the Dundeel colt began beautifully in the Champagne Stakes and travelled in fifth position to the hometurn.
Castelvecchio relished the brutal pace set by the Victorian filly Lady Lupino, who had been very stirred up behind the barrier and was a prime candidate to over race. When Josh pressed the button at the 200 metres, Castelvecchio showed what he could do at his preferred trip. Surely the Caulfield Guineas beckons in the Spring.
In winning the historic race on Saturday, Josh Parr registered his fifth Group 1 success - in a curious sequence. His first Gr 1 winner (Skilled) was also in the Champagne Stakes, he’s won the Surround Stakes twice (Shoals and Nakeeta Jane), while the 2014 Spring Champion Stakes on Hampton Court makes up his quintet. His career win tally is around 840, including 75 stakes races.
Castelvecchio isn’t the first top horse to race under the ownership of Owen Galletta. A host of great pacers graced Australian harness tracks throughout the 1970’s and Galletta happened to own one of the best - the durable Don’t Retreat who raced 113 times for an astonishing 55 wins and 33 placings.
The stallion’s wins included a Spring Cup, a WA Pacing Cup, a Clive Uhr Championship (now known as the Queensland Pacing Championship), a Winfield Cup, and a Queensland Derby in track record time. He met and defeated some of the best of his era including the legendary Paleface Adios. He had to be content with second placing behind Paleface in the 1976 Miracle Mile.
Josh Parr was going to be a jockey from a very early age. Not only is he the son of former respected jockey Steve Parr, but as a youngster he couldn’t keep away from the TV set if a live race was being screened.
He was initially apprenticed to Gosford trainer Kylie Gavenlock whose racehorse numbers dwindled when she built up her pre training business.
His indentures were transferred to Gai Waterhouse with whom he spent twenty months, before switching to Peter Snowden for the latter part of his apprenticeship.
It was the late Fred Cowell who provided Josh’s magical first winner - a mare called Pelennor Fields in a 900 metre scamper at Newcastle almost fifteen years ago.
It was Peter Snowden who gave the young jockey his initial Stakes win on Falaise, in the Gr 3 Newcastle Newmarket. He also got to ride the son of Grand Lodge in the Doncaster a few weeks later, finishing with the tailenders.
Josh will be eternally grateful to Peter Snowden for the opportunity to ride the talented Skilled in the Autumn of 2010. He won a Listed race at Rosehill on the Commands colt before being narrowly beaten by Yosei in the Sires Produce. Two weeks later the young jockey grabbed Gr 1 glory in the Champagne Stakes.
A little over a year ago Josh was devastated when the highly promising Menari went amiss. He won the Rosebud and the Run To The Rose on the son of Snitzel, before finishing third to stablemate Trapeze Artist in a very strong Golden Rose. “He was potentially the best horse I’d ridden at that point in time and his future looked bright”, recalled the jockey. “Gerald Ryan was just as excited about him as I was”.
Menari went to Newgate Farm Stud, attracting a book of sixty mares for his first season. It was a bitter disappointment for his owners when only twenty of those mares returned positive tests.
Preliminary scans revealed significant improvement in his troublesome near fore suspensory ligament, prompting managing part owner George Altomonte to look at another preparation.
He returned to Gerald Ryan’s Rosehill stables early this year and by the time you read this Menari will have had a “jump out”. “We’ve been scanning the leg constantly and at this stage we’re very hopeful he’ll make it back to the races”, said Gerald over the weekend. “We’re hoping to trial him on May 13th, after which we’ll discuss his immediate future. A lot will depend on the state of tracks when the time comes. He won’t be risked on shifty surfaces”.
Josh Parr isn’t a natural lightweight and has to keep a close eye on his weight. “I’ve now worked out that 56kgs is the weight I need to maintain to be at my strongest and my healthiest”, he explained. “I can make 54.5 for a special occasion, but I can’t cope with it for too long”.
Josh and Amanda Parr live on the Central Coast with their three year old daughter Bonnie, and can’t see themselves relocating to a city base. Josh’s brother in law, top jockey Tim Clark also chooses to live in the region. Both jockeys commute to Randwick for trackwork on designated days and wouldn’t change a thing.
Josh Parr will continue to accumulate Gr 1 trophies and will conduct many an interview on racing media. Be sure to tune in to one of his post race chats on Sky Thoroughbred Central. He’ll bring the euphoria of the win into your living room.
(Banner image courtesy Bradley Photographers - Castelvecchio wins at Canterbury on debut.)