Long-time Wangaratta jockey Robbie Beattie reflects on a long career in the bush
Fear’s always in someone else’s throat when he goes for the throttle, pressing the button on a good horse and “it just goes bang”.
Robbie Beattie knows a lot from 34 years plying bush tracks, but this is one unanswerable for the Wangaratta jockey.
It’s in most others’ makeup, but somehow he missed out on that card.
“A lot of riders you see, after a while they do get a bit nervous and a bit gun shy,” he says.
“I think it’s just your DNA. Some people don’t worry. With getting older I go around it a lot better.”
It wasn’t brash, youthful ignorance. It simply wouldn’t worry Beattie, now 51, when the often daily danger of this precarious career confronted him.
If a horse bucked “or something stupid” it would be OK. That’s been tempered somewhat by experience, so now if he’s up against “something a bit iffy” he’ll let the horse run for a minute with the saddle on.
“You go around it the long way, not the short way. Even in races it just doesn’t worry me.”
IT was old Jimmy Corker’s love affair that first did his grandson in. Corker could barely take his eyes off them, those thoroughbreds.
“My grandfather always had racehorses and Hal Hoysted trained them. I was little and my old man was only a tiny bloke. And I always had a pony because my parents always had a farm.
“It went from there. My old man had horses and stock horses.”
His folks bought him a pony, a “cunning little bastard” who defied his sweet name of “Nibbles”, and the pair would spend whole days wandering the area often going up into the back of the Warby Ranges, or earning some pocket money by helping a neighbour with stock work.
Instead of reaching for a mobile phone like kids these days, he and his mates would be out on their ponies. There certainly was a feeling of inevitability when the lad decided he wanted to be a jockey and such was his potential that he seemed destined for a life in the very fast lane of Australian racing.
But he hesitated. Looked over his shoulder, saw the country life he loved and that was the end of that.
And Beattie has never regretted the move, forever finding the thought of life in the big cities unfathomable.
“I went down to Melbourne for a ride, I was going to be an apprentice to old George Hanlon,” he says.
Hanlon, of course, was already a legendary trainer, a reputation sealed long beyond his death seven years ago with Melbourne Cup wins through Piping Lane in 1972, Arwon in 1978 and Black Knight in 1984.
“I just could not handle it, a young kid of 15 going down there. That was just the guts of it,” he says.
“I wasn’t street smart because I’d lived in the country all my life so I just came back here.”
I just could not handle it, a young kid of 15 going down there. I wasn’t street smart because I’d lived in the country all my life so I just came back hereRobbie Beattie
That doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy the experience of being in a big stable – he did, “but when you leave home when you’re 15 it’s pretty tough”.
“It was an eye-opener. It made me appreciate the country life. I wouldn’t change what I’ve done back here, doing the apprenticeship here in Wang’. I loved it.”
After returning to Wangaratta, Beattie was able to do a lot of riding “for old Jimmy Hoysted”.
“He had Aquilone, who won the Group 1 Moir Stakes (in 1986, having been trained at Wangaratta). I rode him in a few races but I never won a race on him. I always rode him first-up around here and then he went to Melbourne.”
Beattie remembers Aquilone as being “a great old horse”. Another stand-out of those times was Top Nick trained by Corker. Beattie ended up riding him to 15 of his 18 wins.
“He was the only one who really had racehorses. It was just something that he had a love affair with. Back in those days a lot of farmers owned racehorses, whereas it’s under syndication now.”
A FEW days ago, Beattie headed off to the Bendigo Cup meeting to keep his hand in.
He just doesn’t get around to all those country meets – Narrandera, Leeton, Tumbarumba – like he did for so many years.
“I still go to them, but I’ve got an old bloke who goes with me a lot and drives. He drove one of the cars when I got married.”
He no longer chases rides, having had his fair share of needing to work at it non-stop to keep life ticking along.
Now it’s the farm, building stables out the back, and not thinking about the racing when he’s not at the track.
If you walk into his house there’s no photos. “Life changes when you come home and you’re quite happy not to see them.” He’s also been “smashed-up” a few times – sometimes people suggest he recuperate by going to the races for a day out. “But I’d say ‘do you go to work for a day out?”.
IF anything sums up the love he still has the sport it would be when he talks about one of his favourite horses.
James Fraser, one of his many loyal trainers over the years –“ I rode for Brian Cox for 12 years until Coxy got suspended” – has one particular old horse called Get Ya Kicks.
“He’s just got the best personality, he’s a real character and a lair - and he knows it too,” he says.
It is the people he has met that is the best part – from some of the most intelligent “to the bloke with the arse out of his pants”.
“It’s a great mixture of culture,” he says.
“As long as you poke along and earn a quid, that’s all that matters.”