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Mature-aged apprentice Andrew Stead has been riding plenty of winners on country tracks and gets his chance in town with four rides at Flemington on Saturday.

The 27-year-old had ridden eight city winners in Adelaide and Brisbane as younger apprentice when indentured to David Balfour in Adelaide, Bruce Purcell at Cranbourne, Les Ross at Eagle Farm and John Salinitri and Andrew Noblet, both at Caulfield, up to 2005.

“I was going pretty well in Queensland but had a fall at trackwork and hurt my shoulder in 2003 which put me on the sidelines for a couple of years,” Stead said.

Stead said a mixture of rising weight and “not having my head in the right place” led to him giving the racing game away and he went into building and had a nine-month stint in Darwin working on pearl boats.

An approach to Victorian Jockeys’ Association executive officer Des O’Keeffe last year was instrumental in him making a comeback to riding.

“If he (O’Keeffe) wasn’t there to help me I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Stead said.

“He organised me to join the John Ledger stable at Wangaratta.

“He and (Racing Victoria’s jockey assistance psychologist) Lisa Stephens were very helpful in getting me back as far as putting me on to people for my weight and to get me fit.”

After having an operation on his injured shoulder and riding trackwork for some time, Stead had his first race ride back at Albury and won on the Ledger-trained Kua Fu on December 18.

He has since built that tally to 23, 19 for the Ledger stable, for a career total of 60 wins, 15 of them since March 6.

One of Stead’s four rides at Flemington is the Ledger-trained Fine Cuban in the Riding For The Disabled Plate (2000m).

The Flying Spur mare is chasing a hat-trick having won a rating 0-68 Hcp (2010m) at Wangaratta and the Adrian Ledger Memorial (2400m) at Albury, both last month.

The latter win gave the Ledger family a great thrill as the Benchmark 65 event is named in honour of Ledger’s son Adrian who was killed in a race fall at Corowa in March 2005.

The stable also won that race with Havana Knights in 2006.

“John has given me every opportunity to make a comeback and it’s paid dividends. It’s been really good for both of us,” Stead said.

Now managed by Peter Meilak who also looks after Darren Gauci, Stead has picked up the mount on Hawks Bay in the National Jockeys Trust Hcp (1600m) for Kyneton trainer Neil Dyer.

He also has two rides for the now Geelong-based Jason Clifford, Rocky Times in the Living Legends Hcp (1400m) and Forbidden Quest in the Racehorse Outplacement Program Hcp (2000m).

“It would have been nice to draw a barrier on one of them,” Stead said, referring to Fine Cuban (10), Rocky Times (19), Forbidden Quest (19) and Hawks Bay (12) all drawing wide gates.

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