This week’s guest is Brenton Avdulla, who currently sits atop the NSW metro jockeys’ premiership.

Punting Insights:

  • The journey from Melbourne apprentice to Sydney star.
  • How he does the form and prepares for upcoming rides.
  • His priorities and thought patterns when the barriers fly open.

Today’s Guest

Sydney jockey Brenton Avdulla

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Podcast Transcript

Mark Haywood: My guest today is actually the current leader of the NSW Metro Jockey’s Premiership, Brenton Avdulla. Thanks for joining us Brenton.

Brenton Avdulla: How are you Mark?

Mark Haywood: Good mate. So just firstly if we could just have a bit of a chat about your own background. You’re a Melbourne lad originally?

Brenton Avdulla: Yeah, Melbourne born and bred. Not really into a traditional jockey family. Obviously dad was a bookmaker. And that’s how I got introduced to horse racing. Obviously from a young age I was always going to the races, hanging around the betting ring more than anything else and helping him and then it grew from there. Went to high school with a trainer’s son and became really good friends with him. We used to go to the stables and have a bit of a play around and obviously I was always an animal lover and got introduced to horses and everything just went from there.

Mark Haywood: And when did you actually move up to Sydney?

Brenton Avdulla: When I was based in Sydney, it was when I was 18. I did my apprenticeship, obviously in Melbourne with John Maloney. And, when I was at John’s I was obviously going all right, I was one of the leading apprentices and Gai needed to fill a void up in Sydney as she had no apprentice at the time. And I was lucky enough to get the call up there when I was 18 and it was meant to only be a six week thing, but turned into like, what, eight years now. So, yeah, Sydney’s become home for me and … Melbourne’s obviously always going to be a soft spot with family and close friends here, but Sydney’s my life at the moment and something I enjoy a lot.

Mark Haywood: And as I said earlier, you’re having a huge year: you’re the runaway leader with 58 wins this year and you’re top of the Metro Premiership. Has there been any big change for you this year, or is it more just natural progression?

Brenton Avdulla: I think the difference in regards to where I stand in the Premiership and winners-wise … five years ago, my manager and myself, we both thought that I could probably be doing better and performing better and my work ethic could probably pick up. And, you know, I’m 26 now and back then I was 20, 21 and probably living the good life in a way where I’d rather be doing things rather than going to the races three or four days a week and working as much. So now I realise, you know, I’ve only got one shot at it, and we’ve been going to the races more often, doing a lot more work.

If you look at the premierships over the last five years, you can see every season I’ve ridden more winners and gradually progressed up the Premiership ladder. And the last couple of seasons I was able to win Country Rider of the Year, Provincial Rider of the Year and for the last season I was New South Wales leading rider and … Yeah, this season, being top in the Metro titles, two thirds of the way through the season’s been, for me, a pretty good achievement and hopefully the last three months of the season’s all going to be concentrating on just staying consistent and trying to ride more winners. Last season I rode, I think, 58 or 59 Metro winners and this season I’m already there, so there’s no reason why I can’t keep going and keep improving and that’s going to be the main goal.

Mark Haywood: We’ve just come out of The Championships, which has obviously become a really big event, and, just on a national and even international scale how have you found the event and how was your last couple of weeks?

Brenton Avdulla: You know, I think the Championships is a really good initiative. Obviously there’s a lot of prize money that’s starting to get on the world stage now with imports. I think a couple of years ago we had Harlem Gold come for it. Even now we’re getting good European horses with Godolphin bringing horses, so I think it’s a really good concept that’s going to work. Last season I had a little bit of luck. This season was pretty average, to be honest. Day one, I didn’t have much go right and I was suspended for day two, so for me the Championships was a bit of a miss this year, but something obviously I’ll be working forward to for next year.

Mark Haywood: I think our punters would be interested in your preparation for a race or a meeting. Would there be a typical lead up, you could say, when your rides are confirmed? And when you know what you will be riding?

Brenton Avdulla: Well Sydney races are a little bit different to a couple of others at the moment. Sydney racing now, I usually know what I’m riding minimum 10 days out. So sometimes it can be the Monday week beforehand, or the Saturday, that I already know. You know, connections are coming to me for rides and confirming them and that. So that’s day one of the process, where I’ve got a manager in place who takes care of that. Every now and then, if there’s a 50-50 call or we’ve got a couple of rides to choose from, that’s when we might come together and work out what we want to ride for that race, or what that ride could lead to and then that’s where we go from there.

And obviously we don’t really do much till the fields come out. And then when the fields come out, that’s when I have a quick look, but I don’t do much about them. Cause there’s so many racing now, at so many meetings in Sydney, my rides on the Saturday, I don’t usually do the form on them till the Friday. Usually at the Wednesday meeting beforehand, the Thursday meeting beforehand and then the Saturday meeting. So, just say a normal Saturday meeting, I’ll won’t get to do the form till probably Friday night.

What I start with is usually just my own horse. I just love to go through all the replays and just see how it’s been best ridden and see it’s little attributes, whether it hangs in, hangs out and all that stuff. I don’t do a lot of the outside horses. I’ve got a form guy in place who does that for me. We come together on the Saturday morning and work that out. Basically all I do is just my replays and then I get a bit of outside help with a speed map or what maybe the attributes of the main dangers could do or where they’re going to be and that’s how I go from there.

Mark Haywood: And on the speed map: is that a big aspect for you?

Brenton Avdulla: I think it is, yeah. It’s always nice to know where you think you’re going to be in running or where the main changes are. You know, if you’ve drawn a little bit wide, you know you’ve got the leader inside you who can just cart your across. Or if you’ve drawn in and there’s not much happening, you can be confident you can take up a forward spot without doing anything.

Just little things. I think it’s helpful and obviously it’s a big help for you to know where you’re going to be in the run and obviously, like I said, to know where the main dangers are. Whether they’re going to be around you, or whether they’re going to be in front of you or whether they’re going to be behind you, you can ride accordingly. And I think that’s been a big help for me. Obviously when you get all the homework done and all that, you can leave the barriers and be confident that you can make those split-second decisions already knowing what’s going to happen around you.

Mark Haywood: And looking at race day itself, the state of the tracks is a big issue and seems to be getting bigger. Are you a big track walker yourself?

Brenton Avdulla: Yeah, I walk every track I go to. So now I’ve been doing it in Sydney, obviously for a long time now. I can usually get a guide to how the track’s going to race just by what the rating comes up or where the rail position is, now that I’ve been walking them pretty frequently. So they do follow patterns. Randwick has played a little bit different the last few weeks. Usually when the rail was true, it was always impossible to stay near the fence. When, the last couple of meetings there when the rail’s been in, it’s been an advantage to say in.

So, I always like to walk the tracks race day and make my own assessment from there and it does play a big part because I’ll walk it before the first. And sometimes you can get an advantage before anyone else has picked it up. Tommy Berry walks all the tracks and we actually compare notes sometimes of what we thought and, when he won that race on Frolic a month ago, we both come to the conclusion that the outside fence was probably the place to be, that’s how it raced. And that’s just a clear example of how sometimes you can get to it before anyone else does and that can become an advantage.

Mark Haywood: With the tactics of the race itself, are they almost always your own tactics that you and I guess your form analyst have come up with, or do you get really specific trainer instructions very often?

Brenton Avdulla: It’s just all different. I suppose it depends who you ride for and what owners and whether the horse is first up and has a long prep ahead, or if it’s rock hard fit and it’s grand final day. Everything’s there to get changed. I think a lot of the connections know now, that I ride for, that I’ve got my own plan. And I’ll always put forward my plan, but at the end of the day, the owners and trainers are there, they’re the ones that own the horse and the ones that pay the bills. So they’re entitled to get their horse ridden to how they want it to be ridden. But, at the same time, when the gates open, I’m the one who’s out there and I’m the one who’s getting paid to make the decisions and I’ll do it as I see it.

You know, you can always come up with a game plan. It worked, like, with Lasqueti Spirit in the VRC Oaks. That was the game plan that everyone decided on, we come up and it paid off. But there’s other decisions, you know, that come once you’re on a horse that has to go back, and you go back and the speed of the race is not in your favour and you know you can’t win from back there, so you’ve got to come up with another plan that maybe the owner and trainer don’t necessarily agree with, but you’ve just got to come up with a plan that you think’s in the best interests of your horse and … Like I said, that’s just something that I’ve got to work that out there.

So, tactics wise, you can come up with a plan A and plan B in front of the owners and trainers, but at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s got to make the decision out there.

Mark Haywood: And in-race, as you were just speaking about, I guess it requires some pretty quick thinking. What’s your number one aim? Is it to get your horse comfortable in the run and moving well?

Brenton Avdulla: Yeah, basically the first thing is I just want to get to a spot as quick as possible. Well not as quick as possible, but I want to get to a spot where I think it’s going to be a winning spot early. To get my horse out of the gate and find that spot within 50 metres or 100 metres. And then get my horse to be switched off and relaxed and into a rhythm. The next crucial part is you want to be within a winning position at the 800 metre mark. And then from then on, you want your horse breathing right and in a rhythm where you can quicken around the bend and be off and going.

I think in a 1600m race, there’s four crucial times. You’ve got the first 400 where you want to get your horse in the game and be in a rhythm. For the next 400m, you just want your horse switched off and relaxed and then from the 800m mark onwards you want to plot your plan, whether you’re behind runners you want to plot where your path is, or if you’re in front you’re just breaking the tempo and making sure you’re going quicker to keep everything happy, but slow enough that your horse is in a rhythm and comfortable. And obviously your last 400’s when it’s game on and just timing when to push the trigger.

Mark Haywood: And from your own success, and I guess the more successful jockeys you see around you, is it that ability to sum things up and make a really quick decision, do you think, that sets the real guns apart?

Brenton Avdulla: Yeah I think so. I think timing’s everything, especially in racing. Your little millimetres are margins in a way and, yeah, it’s all about timing. When you’re hot, you’re hot and you can get those timings down pat, and when you’re a bit off the boil, it’s just, you might push the trigger a touch early or a touch late and just miss the timing, so I think timing’s huge. And confidence plays a big thing. But yeah, I try to get the timing spot on and sometimes I’m known to be quite vigorous on them, but at the same time I think I could be the one who might be able to sit the longest or just keep something there for the finish and just try and get the timing spot on, because you’ve always got to save something for the finish and that’s something that I work on a lot is just trying to get the timing right.

Mark Haywood: And looking at the whip rules, obviously another really contentious issue. Is that something you’ve found really difficult?

Brenton Avdulla: No, not at all. I am a strong rider with the whip, but I never get featured in the stewards report for over-use or anything at all, or I’ve never had, really, a fine or suspension. I always like to get my horses to the top without using the whip. Obviously there’s some horses that need it, but I try and get my horse to the top without the whip and then go from there as the last resort. I don’t think whips make horses go faster, but I do think they make horses concentrate and just keep them at their sustained speed for as long as possible.

Mark Haywood: And coming off the weekend, obviously we’ve seen, unfortunately some quite tragic incidents. Jockey safety is a massive, I’m sure, concern of yours. Is it something that’s constantly on your mind or are you able to block that out?

Brenton Avdulla: Put it this way, if you went out there thinking that something was going wrong, that’s probably when it’s time to retire. It’s something that, you know, you’ve got it in the back of your mind, but you leave it at the back of your mind in a way. Look, I know the dangers of racing. I’ve lost good friends over the years and it’s something that you don’t think about and if I ever do think about it, that’s when it’s going to be time that I don’t want to ride anymore. I love what I do. It’s obviously a dangerous industry, but I get my highs in life through race riding.

It’s something that I love doing and I understand the dangers and I get followed around by an ambulance, all that stuff, but it’s something that I don’t think about. I go out there and … I don’t look at it as a job. I love being around horses, I love the competitiveness of it. It’s a sport to me and it’s a passion. And I get paid for it. So to me that’s how it is and if it becomes anything different, that’s when I’ll be thinking to maybe give it up or do something else. But in the meantime, that’s all it is for me and I love what I’m doing.

Mark Haywood: Great, good to hear. In summing up, career highlight so far?

Brenton Avdulla: Definitely the VRC Oaks. That was definitely something special, going back to Melbourne winning a main feature in the four day carnival is always something special. That’s definitely the biggest one.

Mark Haywood: And without annoying your owners or trainers or anything, what would you say is the best horse you’ve ridden?

Brenton Avdulla: Best horse I’ve ridden? I did ride Hartnell once. He only went fair, but he’s rated the second best horse in the country behind Winx, so I’d definitely have to say Hartnell.

Mark Haywood: The future. Any chance of seeing you full time back down here in Melbourne at any stage do you think? Or are you well and truly ensconced in Sydney now?

Brenton Avdulla: Sydney’s my life at the moment. Obviously I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend who supports me in everything I do. And it’s just a way of life at the moment, where I am in Sydney, but racing’s one of those things, it’s all about opportunities and you go to where your opportunities are. It’s just a name, but if Darren Weir offered me a number one role in Melbourne, then I probably wouldn’t hesitate and go back to Melbourne and ride for him. If Chris Waller gave me the number one position in Sydney, I’d ride for him. If John Moore gave me the contract in Hong Kong, I’d go to Hong Kong. So I think racing’s one of those things where you it can take you anywhere interstate or anywhere in the world, so you’re never really tied down, especially when I’m only 26.

And I think my girlfriend knows that. I’m sure she’d be happy to move with me anywhere I went and that’s how it’s gonna be. So, as I said, if my life’s in Sydney and the opportunities are in Sydney, then that’s where I’m going to stay, but if something comes up whether overseas or interstate, then that’s something to think about and something that I wouldn’t say no to.

Mark Haywood: Fantastic. Well, that’s probably about all we want to go through today, so thanks for our time Brenton and thanks for giving the guys a bit of an insight into how you prepare for a race and also when the gates fly open. So thanks a lot for your time.

Brenton Avdulla: No problem, thank you.