Eight year old gelding Powerline was shipped over the border from Kris Lees’ Gold Coast stable to win Saturday’s Casino Gold Cup on the NSW Northern Rivers.
Once jockey Ben Looker extricated Powerline from a homestretch pocket, the big grey swamped nine younger rivals to win the $30,000 country feature.
Those impressed by this veteran’s emphatic Cup win may have missed something that happened in a BM 50 earlier in the day. The winner Tudor Sunrise is an eight year old, runner up Dubai Gee Eye is ten, while third placegetter Nakanai is still competitive at eleven.
The significance of the race doesn’t stop there. It may well have been the only race in Australia on Saturday in which three jockeys aged over fifty participated. Sixty year old Cyril Small rode the second horse, while “fifty plus” horsemen, Peter Graham and Jon Grisedale finished out of a place.
It’s not that long ago that Australian jockeys expected a decline in opportunities from age 45. I remember Ron Quinton saying the writing was on the wall from mid forties, while Darren Gauci had a similar experience.
Maybe the achievements of riders like Jim Cassidy, Jeff Lloyd and Michael Cahill in recent times has brought a realisation that these older riders are supremely fit and as keen as ever - not to mention their wealth of experience. Sixty one year old Robert Thompson won three races at Cairns on Saturday, including the Cup on The Harrovian.
None of the aforementioned are keener or more passionate than Cyril Small. Here is a jockey who walked the big stage with champion Vo Rogue in the 1980’s, but today gets almost as big a buzz jumping on a 50/1 “shot” for an old mate.
Horse training is just one skill mastered by Cyril’s multi-talented wife Lynlea. Accompanied by their entire family the couple loaded the veteran Dubai Gee Eye onto their horse float early on Saturday morning and headed off to Casino, two hours away. They returned winless many hours later, but enjoyed a great family day in Cyril’s former hometown.
How Lynlea manages her frantically busy life is a source of wonderment to family and friends. This dynamic mother of three was only recently conferred with the title of Doctor of Philosophy, having successfully completed a three year course while working full time at Griffith University.
Her thesis represents the first study in Australia to examine how the relationships between workplace supervisors and business student interns may enhance the employability of university graduates.
Lynlea and Cyril were married just before the jockey’s permanent partnership with Vo Rogue began. He was the rider in twenty two of the champion’s twenty six wins, which included six at Group 1 level.
Under today’s rankings the gelding’s tally at the elite level would have reached double figures - his three C.F. Orr Stakes wins and his Turnbull Stakes win would now be classified as Group 1 events.
Vo Rogue’s freewheeling, tear away style of racing thrilled the fans around Australia. He would sometimes establish leads of 20-25 lengths which more often than not would break the hearts of the opposition. He’d look vulnerable when the challenges came, but invariably got a second wind.
More than half of his total career runs were on Melbourne tracks, where he won sixteen races including two Australian Cups. Cyril says his win in the 1989 William Reid Stakes was the performance that stamped his extraordinary versatility. “At his best at 2000 metres, he took on a field of Group 1 sprinters first up”, recalled the jockey. “I was astounded when he led easily and beat horses like Military Plume, Groucho and Campaign King. He was an out and out freak”.
Vo Rogue and Cyril Small attained a cult like following in Melbourne, as Lynlea attests. “We got to Melbourne on the Sunday before the Australian Cup one year and decided to kill some time at the famous Queen Victoria Markets.
We ordered ice creams from a vendor of Greek origin who commented on Cyril’s resemblance to Vo Rogue’s jockey”, recalled Lynlea. “Cyril just nodded, after which the Greek gentleman informed us Vo Rogue’s jockey was a personal friend and that they’d been out on the town together the previous night”.
Cyril’s resemblance to Rugby League legend and Nine Network commentator Peter Sterling has also created some amusing situations. Lynlea has never forgotten the night they attended a 21st birthday party for jockey Shane Scriven. “Cyril and I were on different sides of the room and I heard several people exclaiming that Sterlo was at the party”, said Lynlea. “This persisted until I actually asked someone to point him out to me. The person next to me, pointed straight at Cyril and I had great delight in setting him straight. He’s been mistaken for the famous footballer many times”.
Cyril’s association with the legendary Vo Rogue continued right up to the great horse’s death in 2012 at age twenty eight. Old Vo was the star boarder at the Smalls’ three hectare property in the Tallebudgera Valley on the Gold Coast hinterland. “It was a joy to give him a home for life after all he’d done for us”, said Cyril. “We were devastated when we lost him seven years ago”.
Cyril Small is a New South Welshman by birth and actually grew up in Casino. He was indentured to Stan Rayner, gaining his licence to ride in races in May of 1974. “I’ve ridden for all or at least part of every season for forty five years”, declares the jockey. “I guess I’ve been pretty lucky as far as accidents go, but there was one shocker in 2002”.
The mother of all “busters” took place at a Gold Coast meeting in October 2002. He was riding a chestnut gelding called Kings Cross, who fractured a shoulder in the run home and crashed heavily. Cyril’s list of injuries was horrific.
“I fractured three vertabra at the base of the neck and another four slightly lower down”, recalled Cyril. “Add to that a broken nose and a skull fracture which affected my entire facial structure. I was still having bone grafts two years later. Somehow I got back to the races in eleven months”.
Cyril and Lynlea went through the same anguish all over again in April, when youngest son Braidon suffered traumatic injuries in a jumps race crash at Pakenham. He sustained a major bleed to the brain, requiring emergency surgery and a prolonged rehabilitation. Lynlea and Cyril had to make a mercy dash to Melbourne during the initial worrying stages.
You’d expect an accident of this magnitude to turn anybody off a pursuit as hazardous as jumps racing, but Braidon can’t wait to get back into action. “The minute they give me the clearance I’ll have my boots back on”, said the young horseman.
Braidon’s elder brother Daniel rides work for John Smerdon, before reporting for duty at a busy pre training operation run by former NSW trainer Greg Bennett.
Twenty five year old Jessica Small isn’t as devoted to horses as are her two brothers, but according to Lynlea she had all the talent in the world. “She could ride as well as both boys, but simply wasn’t hooked on horses. She’s more than happy to be working for the Gold Coast City Council.
Her father is inherently hooked on horses. He still observes “jockey’s hours” and is a regular at Gold Coast trackwork sessions for top trainer Toby Edmonds. If a race ride comes his way, he’s willing to travel any distance within reason to honour the commitment.
Cyril has just one more goal he’d love to reach. “I’ve been race riding for forty five years and would dearly love to get to the half century”, said the veteran jockey. “I’m fit and healthy and as keen as ever. I’m going to hang in there for a while yet”.
On those days when he needs something to lift his spirits he has a million memories of Vo Rogue to fall back on. Few jockeys have the same luxury.
(Banner Image courtesy Steve Hart Photographics - Banner Shot - Vo Rogue looked every inch a champion. Returning to scale after 1989 George Main Stakes win.)