For Queensland racing enthusiasts, there wasn’t a more popular win on Saturday than Ronnie Stewart’s triumph aboard Selino in the Group 1, $2 million Sydney Cup at Randwick.
Seldom has the cheer in the run home been as much for the jockey as the horse itself as the humble, highly accomplished, but mostly under the radar rider added an Australian Group 1 win to his already impressive, international big race resume. It was riveting theatre from Stewart and the $26 (Sportsbet) chance Selino, who crunched up and threw their underdog tag away inside the final 800m and steamed ahead to score a thoroughly well-deserved win. Call it one for the good guys!
The Sydney Cup, Group 1 winning jockey was back in Queensland on Sunday taking one ride at the Sunshine Coast. That runner finished last in a four-horse field, but nothing could take the smile off Stewart’s face when he was asked about his Sydney Cup ride on the Chris Waller trained import Selino and, in particular, about the early move he made which turned out to be a race winning decision.
“It is always a tough call to know when to make your move, particularly when I hadn’t ridden there (at Randwick) for some time,” said Stewart, referring to his decision to send Selino quickly up around horses in a long sweeping run from well before the home turn.
“But there was a decision to make. The horse was travelling very strongly at the time and, at the end of the day, Selino is a 3200m horse … and probably looking for even further … and, with the tempo and the way the race was being run, I just didn’t want to sit back and be left having to sprint
“I knew I was in for a tough battle even from the awkward draw we had. It sort of unfolded as well as it could. The only worry I had was going past the winning post for the first time. It is a long way to go when they are pulling that hard.
“I watched Selino’s replays a lot. He had the blinkers on and they took them off on Saturday which was good. I probably wouldn’t have held him if he had the blinkers on.
“When I did come around them from the 1000m, as much as I made ground pretty fast, I was getting there quite cheaply and getting there comfortably. I knew if I could make it to the top of the rise without going full bore, I thought I was going to be very hard to run down … and it panned out that way.
“It probably worked out perfectly in terms of the time I did get going. I didn’t want to wait any longer otherwise somebody else would have done what I did.
“Probably about 150m out, I could see Andrew Atkins pulling ground off us (on Rondinella) and I thought we were going to be in for a fight but, in all fairness to my horse, he really found another gear about 100m out, and kicked again which was really impressive.”
And how did the ride on Selino come about in the first place?
“Richard Callander rang me up. His wife managed me previously for a short time in Sydney and he has always helped me along the way with rides,” said Stewart.
“He rang me first just to make sure I could ride the 50kg and then he put my name forward to Chris Waller. The fact I could definitely ride the weight I think sealed the deal.”
Stewart has never been shy to relocate to further his career and the obvious question now is, has his latest lucrative and successful sortie into Sydney whetted his appetite for a return to the precinct where he did so well as an apprentice?
“I love it down in Sydney and I’ve got a few mates there who are always ringing me up and saying I should be going back down there, but it is so competitive.
“I wouldn’t mind moving down there, but I think it is a bit of an ask at the moment. It’s funny, Sydney has always been good to me… even as a kid.
“Like Chris (Waller) said, I rode for him early days before he had the numbers and there is a lot of trainers coming through the ranks that I rode for when they were a lot younger. I’m sure I could build something there, but it is still a big ask. You will need a lot of opportunities.
“I have a young daughter now and we are sort of settled in Queensland. If more opportunities came and more interest … you can never rule anything out but, at the moment, I’m happy being based in Queensland.
“It’s great to get the big win down there … and, who knows, I might get a few more phone calls.
“Chris was really good. He came up to me one or two races after the Sydney Cup. He pulled me aside and said well done. He was very modest about the success.
“He did say he had to work a little bit to get me on the horse … he said the owners didn’t really know about me … but he said it was really nice to be able repay me because we both started out battling together.
“I would like to add one final thing about when I was an apprentice in Sydney, and down in Canberra originally, with my old boss Bernie Howlett. He won the Sydney Cup. He beat Tulloch on a horse called Sharply and when I was there as a kid, he always used to walk past that photo of the Sydney Cup on the wall and look at it. He was quite proud of it and used to say … yeah, I won a Sydney Cup … I beat Tulloch!
“For a joke, I want to get a photo of my Sydney Cup win now and send it to Bernie to show him that I’ve got one just like he has.”
The bottom line is nothing attracts attention like winning big races … and boy did Stewart raise his profile on Saturday.
Whether those phone calls start coming in from interstate, or, whether Stewart gets more opportunities in his home state, remains to be seen, but the chances are his big day out in Sydney on Saturday could be launch pad to bigger and better things to come.
As the saying goes … it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!