Paul King or The Duck as he is more fondly known had a very successful career in Western Australia for many years where he was one of the leading riders.
During his career he has ridden 16 Group One winners and also had stints in places like Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius and Qatar. Just over a year ago he decided to make the move to NSW and ply his trade in Sydney. After getting settled into the racing scene over here he has now found a permanent base in Wyong where life is treating him well.
He has lost none of that skill or hunger either. In fact from the last twenty five favourites he has ridden at the provincial tracks he has managed to get ten of them home. That’s a pretty impressive 40% strike rate.
I caught up with The Duck this week to talk about his career to date.
How did you get involved with horse racing?
It was actually my grandfather. He loved horse racing and loved a punt. When I was young and because I was quiet small my Grandfather suggested to my parents that maybe they should look at me becoming a jockey. So it was his influence that pushed me towards that line.
At what age did you start your apprenticeship and who were you indentured too?
I did not start my apprenticeship until I was fourteen and I did it with the leading provincial and country trainer back in Western Australia called Noel Pateman. He still trainers now. He has two horses in work these days.
At the time when I started with Noel we had about one hundred horses in work at any given time. He was the leading country provincial trainer in WA for many years. He also had quiet a few decent city runners too.
What was it like doing an apprenticeship back in those days?
Rough. Very rough. There was none of this OH&S stuff. Three in the back of the old horse float against the gas tank and driving six to seven hours up to a race meeting. You get back the next day to the stables and you are up early riding track work that morning. It was rough as guts honestly.
The kids these days get it very well probably to well to be honest. I think some of them should have to go through what we did so they learn how to do it tough. It might make them stop sooking a bit and to appreciate what they have.
Who did you look up to in the jockey ranks at the time?
When I was a kid coming through I always looked up to Shane Dye. I really liked the way he rode. When you are young you try to pick bits and pieces out of different riders. You do not try and style yourself from just the one rider. Everyone has there individual style and it is just a matter of trying to perfect yours to the best you can. Watching the good riders is definitely the way to do it.
Tell us about your first race ride on a horse called King Kario Purged in 1985.
That was the bosses son’s horse. It was a dirt track with no running rail. It was one of those off the beaten track country places where you could actually race horses twice a day back then. I actually think I rode him twice in the one day. It didn’t do much in fact it did very little.
When I first started race riding I was 28kg and the saddle was that heavy that one day when I ran third I had to get a steward to carry it for me until I got back to the scale to weigh in.
It took me about fifty rides before I got my first winner at Pinjarra Park. I kept chipping away and I knew I would get the winner eventually. The leading rider at the time was a jockey by the name of Rod Kemp and he was the leading rider for many years and it took him one hundred rides to get his first winner. I always remember someone telling me that when I was a kid so I thought if he can struggle that long for a first winner then I can keep going.
Fast forward ten years to the 1995 Fruit ‘n’ Veg Stakes (now the Kingston Town Classic) and you rode your first Group One winner on Forge On. Tell us about the day.
He was actually a nice horse. In his first ten starts he hadn’t won. A bloke called Bob Taylor had the horse originally and the horse hadn’t done anything. His first few starts were really ordinary, he did nothing.
A bloke called Nigel Reid then got the horse. Nigel rang me and said I have this horse and asked if I would trial it for him. I went down and trialled him and went really well. Nigel put him in a maiden at Northam and I didn’t ride him that day. He came out and won at about 100/1. He then went back to Northam and won his next start again and it just snowballed from there.
He won at midweek in town and all the way through I had the option to ride the horse so obviously when he put three or four wins together I thought to myself hold on a minute I better get back on him because he is going pretty well. Leading up to the Fruit ‘n’ Veg I had won on him and in that years race it was very strong with horses like Star Struck which had won an Australian Cup and Island Morn that had won a Railway Stakes.
I had about six or seven rides to choose in the race however I decided to stick with Forge On as I thought he was the horse and he gave me the best feel that he was the one. Obviously I pulled the right reign because I won the race and beat the horse I had gotten off to ride Forge On.
I was very confident with the horse. I thought he would definitely be winning. He drew a nice gate and put himself on the pace well and just throughout the race I thought they would have to be very strong to beat him.
Sixteen Group Ones. Which one stands out the most?
Probably the 2006 Railway on Belle Bizarre. When I first came out of my apprenticeship it was obviously pretty hard going from that to the senior ranks. I was very good friends with Rod Bynder at the time who ended up trained Belle Bizarre. He was not training it at that point. He was the foreman for a private trainer and Rod helped me out a lot.
When he took out his trainer’s license he supported me and put me on horses so when the opportunity came up to ride her I grabbed it with both hands. I had watched her lead up runs and she was a horse that was extremely seasoned and she had just come back from a big Melbourne preparation. She was inform and a front running mare who could run 1400m to a mile.
When Rod asked me if I had a ride in the race I said no and he put me on her. It was a very strong field that year too. David Hayes had a couple of nice horses in it. She just ran them off their feet and held on. I had run three or four second places in the Railway prior to that so I just wanted to get one.
So why did you make the move from Western Australia to Sydney?
I had obviously ridden predominantly in Perth because that is where I grew up. I did my apprenticeship there and when I came out of my time I went to Singapore for about three years and rode over there.
I then came back to Perth and then in around 1995 I was riding a nice horse there called Wabasso for a trainer called Albie Beckett. He had taken a horse over to Sydney a couple of years earlier called Old Roll that ran second in the Doncaster with Shane Dye onboard. Soho Square won it that year.
Albie had another nice horse coming through that I won a couple of nice Group races on. He decided he wanted to take him over for the Epsom. So Albie asked me to go over and ride him. Just before his first start I flew over and rode a few bits of trackwork on him and then in his first start he ran third at Rosehill.
He was only going to have three starts over there and I was originally going to fly over and back for each race. I then I decided to stay for the whole time he was over there. I hung around and just rode a bit of work and TJ Smith was still there and Gai Waterhouse was just starting off training back then. I went over and started riding a bit of work for her and also Anthony Cummings and Bart Cummings.
I stayed for the six weeks and the horse ended up getting beaten about three lengths in the Epsom. Whilst I was there though Gai put me on a few horses and I think from the three horses she put me on they all won. Two were at Kembla and one at Randwick. I just enjoyed the whole thing and loved Sydney racing.
Basically every time I have ridden the Sydney way around which is the same as Macau where I rode for about a year and a half as well as Mauritius which is also the same way I just feel very comfortable. I really prefer to ride this way around compared to Perth and Melbourne.
So I flew back to Perth but I always had in the back of my mind that I would like to come and do it at some point. I had a few more stints overseas and then when I was back in Perth I just thought I had done pretty much all I need to do and there was not much left to do.
By that stage Perth had become predominantly more apprentice based. Senior riders were struggling to get the rides over apprentices. My wife with her job she was a National accounts Manager for Alliance Insurance. She said she could get a transfer to Sydney if we wanted and we could go over for six to twelve months and see how it goes and if I liked it and if we didn’t we could always go home.
We decided to take the punt and come over and I had previously ridden winners for Gai and also ridden for both Anthony and Bart Cummings so I obviously wasn’t going in blind. We love it hear and aren’t looking to go anywhere else. If you don’t challenge yourself you don’t improve.
You recently won the Stayers Cup on Lovethebeaches. It got a lot of people talking. Reminiscent of Vo Rogue days. What were your instructions on the day?
The instructions on the day were to let her be where she felt comfortable. Just remember she isn’t going to quicken. If it is a walk and sprint she is gone. You need to get on your bike and getting rolling from about the half mile. If they are walking let her go. The trainer basically said I am going to leave it up to you but just remember she isn’t going to go bang.
Basically she jumped and got going and the pace slowed up so I thought I am going to roll to the front and I just let her run at her own tempo and I didn’t try to restrain her. She kept creeping away and creeping away.
I got to the half mile and thought you know what I am going to give her a little squeeze and she quickened again. I had a little look behind me around the 1000 metre mark because I couldn’t hear anyone and they were eighteen lengths behind me haha.
Because of previous runs when I watched them I thought you know what she isn’t going to stop and if you are going to be giving me a three second lead you are going to have to really quicken to beat her. And that is exactly what happened. She had that big enough gap on them that she was able to maintain that gap and finish seven or eight lengths in front of them.
Who is the best horse you have ridden?
I think it would have to be close to being Mr Sandgroper. I won the 2004 WA Derby on him. He was terrific. He won seven out of eight that preparation. I really loved him. He was your typical lovely looking colt when he was young. I remember when David Edwards trained him. David had a heap of young horse. He came down the track the first time after being broken in and I think he had about eight or nine horses all with the big marquee saddles on.
I walked down along the side of all of them and said to David what’s this one and he said it is by Peintre Celebre. I said I liked the look of it and I’ll jump on it. He said no we will get one of the track riders to get on it. He said no it’s got the big saddle on it. I said I didn’t mind because I wanted to get on him. I walked two steps out of the stall and he was up on his back legs roaring and striding and carrying on. I took him out on the track and went around then brought him back in and said to David I want to ride this horse.
I said out of all these horses this is the one I want to ride and I want to stay on him. And he turned out to be Mr Sandgroper. He gave me such a lovely feel and such a great animal. He couldn’t run 2400 metres to be honest but he was just better than them. His pet distance was probably a mile.
Looking forward is there one you have your eye on that could pay to follow?
As far as I am concerned any winner is a good winner. It doesn’t matter where it is. I rode one for Gai last month called Global Glamour. I was very impressed with her. I thought her win was terrific. She gave me a very similar feel to English when I won on her the previous year leading towards the Slipper.
She is a different style of horse obviously. English is a back marker whereas Global Glamour is a jump and run horse. What impressed me the most was that she was only a neck in front of them on the corner and ended up winning by six and a half lengths. Average horses do not do that.
Is there an up and coming jockey we should be keeping an eye on?
If I had to pick a kid out that is on the way up I would have to say Andrew Adkins. He is a nice kid, level headed and he wants to learn. If he keeps on the straight and narrow then he is one to look out for. He has natural talent and good on a horse. If he gets the right opportunities and keeps his head where it should be he will be up there for a long time.
Do you have any goals left to accomplish?
Yes, don’t fall off haha.
What about some unfinished business in Perth where you have 196 Belmont Park winners and 149 Ascot winners?
No I am quite happy in Sydney. It would have been nice to have 150 in Ascot and 200 at Belmont but I am happy with what I achieved there. I have had a great career. I have had a lot of injuries and broken a lot of bones but I have also had a lot of success.
Do you have a favourite track of here now?
I have always loved Kembla. My first ever two rides there both won. I also love riding on the new Beaumont track at Newcastle. I reckon it is a fantastic track and to be honest as a wet weather track it rivals Canterbury. Honestly it can be a heavy ten there and it is still fantastic to ride on.
I also love riding at Randwick when I get the opportunity. It is a fantastic track when it is on song. But I would probably say Kembla is my favourite.
What are your plans for the future?
I will keep riding. I have always maintained that there are only three things that will stop me; getting to old, injuries or I lose my nerve. I have had that many falls I don’t think I will be losing my nerve so it is only going to be age or injuries.
Training isn’t something I am interested in. I have always maintained that I have seen more sunrises than I care to remember and if you become a trainer you need to keep looking at them and I think I have seen enough.
I have really never thought that far ahead. I have always loved what I have done and I love riding. It is like any other job that sometimes you think I wish I had a day off but then when you do have it off you think geez I wish I was racing today.
Whilst I am able to still be competitive I will keep going. If I’m not competitive then I will look to something else but until then I think I am still competitive. I still have the strength there at the end of my race and I do not have to waste which is a big plus.
I naturally ride light so that has been a big help to my career as I don’t need to sweat it out. I can eat what I want and drink what I want whenever I want. I walk around naturally at 51kg. That is a big help for me at the end of the race when you are trying to encourage a horse because I still have the strength.
How is life on the Central Coast of NSW treating you?
I love it. My wife and I both love it. Obviously we spent just over the first twelve months in Sydney but since we have moved up to Wyong we just love the place. It is easy to get around and for me I am a lot more central to everything.
I am an hour away from Newcastle, twenty minutes from Gosford and closer to Muswellbrook, Scone and Cessnock. The longest trip I have to do is Kembla which is only 2.5 hours away.
I do a couple of days a week at the Wyong track and then I do a couple of days at Randwick. It suits us very well and our lifestyle very well. I don’t think you could find a better spot to be honest.