It is always refreshing in the racing industry to meet a young jockey who knows what they want and puts in the hard yards to make that dream happen.
One such hoop is Blake Spriggs. For a young man he has already seen the highs and lows of the sport and you get the feeling he uses this to motivate himself in his pursuit to climbing the top of the ladder.
He is well spoken and articulate and knows that hard work will always pay off. At present he is riding in career best form. Watch him ride and you get the feeling he will make it to the top and be there for a long time.
Your father Dale was a successful jockey. When did you realise you wanted to follow in his footsteps?
I was about four years old. I don’t particularly remember it however I was at Bega race course and mum put me on top of a horse that Dad was riding in a later race and apparently from that moment on I told them I wanted to be a jockey.
At what age did you start your and apprenticeship and who did you do it with?
I actually started riding trackwork at fourteen and nine months when I was still at school. I would get up and go to the track and ride horses for Steve Hodge at Newcastle and I did that for quite a while until I started my apprenticeship in 2008.
My apprenticeship was with Steve Hodge and I went to Muswellbrook for my first ride and luckily it won. It was a horse called Sixty Watt. I had trialled her before hand and she trialled really well. I wasn’t expecting her to win but I was expecting her to run very well.
You had a short stint with Joe Pride in 2009. What was that experience like?
It was great. It was always just for a bit of experience and it was not planned to be anything long term. It was all about going down and learning a bit of Joe. It was fantastic and I got to work with some nice horses.
I rode horses like Black Prince for him and he always had a strong team there so I really learnt a lot from him.
In 2010 you had a 3 month loan to Gai Waterhouse. In that time you rode 5 winners in a day at Rosehill and a Group 3 in the Run to the Roses. Was it a case of to much success to quickly?
I ended up doing about six months there and everything happened very quickly. Gai was very quick to reward the hard work and I never had an issue with the work. I don’t think I missed a day in the whole time I was there.
It probably was a case of to much to quickly cause I was only seventeen when I went there and it was my first long term stint away from home. I guess looking back on it now it probably happened to quickly but I would never give it back.
Towards the end of your apprenticeship you broke your ankle and were out for five months. Was that a tough time on the sidelines after putting in so much effort to establish yourself?
Yes it was. I had a lot of time to think about things. I was really working hard and since leaving Gai’s stable I struggled for city rides and I went back to the country and rode a lot around there and did have a lot of success. It was hard going from the big high of riding in Group Ones like the Epsom and Metropolitan for Gai back down to country races.
Coming to terms with that was something I really thought about in the time off. It made me think that I have to work even harder to get back there. Once I was back I got straight into it and worked even harden than I ever had; even at when I was with Gai. It has only really started to kick in during the last two to three years.
Kris Lees was a big supporter of yours early in your career. How much of an influence has he been on?
He was a big influence. He always put me on when he had a high weighted horse. My first Saturday winner was a horse called Motspur for Kris. He gave me a lot of support week in and week out. He had a lot of confidence in me which allowed me to go out into a race and basically ride it like I saw it. And that in turn gave me a lot of confidence in myself when I started riding winners.
Was that the confidence you needed to then move back to Sydney?
Yes it was. I always keep stats and all that in my mind and I was seeing that a lot of the provincial and country jockeys were based in Sydney even although they were riding outside of Sydney most of the time.
I knew that if I got the right horse I could compete there and I just found that a lot of my good support and long term owners were based in Sydney. I thought that if I could keep that connection there long term it would be more beneficial to me.
Well talking of stats this season has been huge for you. 20 of your last 50 favourites have won giving a 40% rate, you are riding at 14% winners to rides ratio and you have ridden 12winners for the month of February. What do you put that down too?
Basically it is down to hard work. I pride myself on going anywhere for a ride. I have always worked on my riding and I have always backed myself. Also getting the right support as no jockey would be where they are without the good support.
I get a lot of support from Waratah Thoroughbreds and Greg Bennett and Kris Lees and a lot of big trainers and owners with good horses. I do work hard to back it up but I guess it is just a flow on effect and it snowballs when you are working hard and getting those winners.
You just mentioned Greg Bennett. He has been a big supporter this last 12 months. You have ridden plenty of winners for him. How far does that friendship go back?
He was another big supporter at the start of my apprenticeship. I had a lot of success with him in the early days when I was claiming 3kg around Muswellbrook and Scone. Greg contacted me not long out of my apprenticeship and said he had taken a lot of horses for a big owner that he was looking to have long term which was Paul Fudge and Waratah.
He knew that Paul was looking for a younger jockey to hopefully help him long term and Greg thought that our association could really build. Straight away in the first full season of riding for him we won the premiership at Scone and we had an incredible strike rate. It has really built and we speak on a day to day basis at the moment and it is only something that is getting stronger and stronger.
I notice that Sir John Hawkwood was back at the trials this week. Excited?
Yes I am very excited. I was very impressed with his trial. He is a horse that even although he is older I don’t think we have seen the best of him. He is only very lightly raced. It has taken a long time for him to adapt to the Australian way of training. Luke Geddes, Paul, David Vandyke and myself all sat down and Luke and I put the idea forward to Paul that we start sending him back to the farm regularly after trials and races just to freshen up and keep his old legs in good spirits. He is a horse that I can really see running a cheeky race in those bigger races during the carnival particularly down in the weights.
The Sydney Cup looks to be the target at the moment. He is on 50kg at this stage and he hasn’t carried that in his life and at home he really has an electric turn of foot for a stayer. I am excited to see what he can do with no weight on his back.
Anyone else we should be keeping an eye on in the near future?
I like a horse called Machinegun Jubs. She only won at Cessnock last start but she did it in track record time at only her second start. She showed a lot of speed and a lot of potential. The scary bit for me was that it felt like I had a couple of lengths up my sleeve going to the line. By all reports she has really improved. I think she heads to Gosford on Saturday 5th March and she will be a really hard horse to beat there.
What are your short and long term goals?
Short term goal is to obviously ride as many winners as I can. I spoke to Paul Fudge and Waratah only a couple of weeks ago and we brought up our first listed race together and it was actually Waratahs first listed race win in Australia. We sat down and thought that Group three to Group One wins are our next aim. Long term is Premierships obviously.