Betting 360 Podcast Episode 129: Preparing & Promoting with jockey Chris Symons

Experienced Victorian jockey Chris Symons is this week's podcast guest.

Betting 360 Podcast

This week’s podcast guest is Victorian jockey Chris Symons.

Chris has spent nearly 20 years in the saddle, predominantly in Victoria but also having stints in South Australia and even the USA.  He’s also played a leading hand in numerous initiatives to help jockeys communicate with punters, such as jockey cam and RideGuide.

Punting Insights:

  • The typical lead-up to a race for a jockey
  • Opinions matter: doing your own speed maps but also reviewing others
  • How racing needs to better market itself

Today’s Guest

Jockey Chris Symons

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Podcast Transcript

Mark Haywood: My guest on this week’s podcast is Victorian jockey, Chris Symons, Thanks for joining us Chris.

Chris Symons: No worries Mark.

Mark Haywood: So, just wanted to get you on, have a chat about a few things. I guess firstly do you just want to give the listeners a bit of an idea of your background, how you got into racing. Has it been a lifelong thing?

Chris Symons: Yeah Mark, I’m 34 years old and I’ve been in racing for roughly 17-18 years. I had my first ride in 1999 at Balaklava in South Australia. Prior to that, I’m not from a racing background. My mum and dad had a Baker’s Delight in Mentone. So no racing background. As far as I can go back I’ve got a Great Grandfather that was a professional punter, his name was Jack Heeney, he worked with Squizzy Taylor, so there’s a bit of history there, from that sort of perspective. As to working in racing no one in my family has worked in racing.

My dad always followed racing and what not, he actually went to the Warrnambool Carnival and he met a couple of people there that have actually helped me get involved in racing. From there I ended up in South Australia. Had my first ride at Balaklava. Had my first winner at a place called Kimba, they no longer race there, for a bloke called Frank Lane. From there I ended back in Victoria, finished my apprenticeship at Tony Noonan’s, at Mornington. Then I did I little stint in Seattle, in the U.S.A. I rode there for six months and rode 34 winners. Also along the way, I invented a heated jacket that actually got me a gig in America, the heated jacket was an aid to help jockeys lose weight using infrared heat. I actually got done over with that by the bloke that I went into business with. In the end, he got done over himself by Rip Curl and it’s now a multimillion dollar company owned by Rip Curl which is heated jackets and wetsuits so we’re both losers.

That got me the opportunity to go over to the U.S.A. and ride which I thoroughly enjoyed however it’s not a place that I’d be going back in a hurry. I did six months there which was definitely enough for my lifetime.

I’ve ridden in three Melbourne Cups Mark, my best efforts in the Melbourne Cup was ninth, on a horse called Kibbutz. I also rode Newport and then another horse called Saptapadi… he finished 28th in the Melbourne Cup because the clerks of the course beat him home.
I’ve probably ridden over a thousand winners now, I’ve got a farm down on the Mornington Peninsula, I hope to open up the end of this year, for special needs children to do animal therapy. I’m also gonna open it up for tourism. On our farm currently we have about 70 animals ranging from 2 crocodiles to 4 dingoes, exotic parrots. I’ve got a mob of kangaroos, hopefully arriving in the coming weeks. A whole heap of snakes and that sort of stuff.

I’ve also been a part of the Channel 7 coverage… I helped with Channel 7 create their initiative of Jockey Cam, which gives punters and spectators the view of the jockey which has definitely created a new element of racing.

Mark Haywood: So you’ve got a fair bit on your plate then.

Chris Symons: Yeah, pretty busy.

Mark Haywood: Yeah. We’ve actually got you… you’re either at the ‘Bool or on the way down there? It’s become a pretty good carnival, Warrnambool. I guess is it a highlight for the jockeys as much as it is for the punters?

Chris Symons: Oh, I suppose it is. Each to their own Mark. I’m not a big Warrnambool fan. I haven’t been there for a few years to be honest. I thought I’d make the trip this week which I’m looking forward to. I’m just there for the two days, today and tomorrow. I’ve got three rides today and I’ve also got two tomorrow. And then I’ll be back at Bendigo on Friday, and I’ve got a nice book of rides on Saturday at Flemington which I’m really looking forward to.

Mark Haywood: Great. Getting onto, for our listeners, I think what they’d be interested in, is your preparation for a race. Is there a typical lead up in terms of when you’ll ride to confirmed? When you would know what you’ll be riding etc?

Chris Symons: Yeah. For an example, Mark, Wednesday is the day that the acceptances will be out for a Saturday meeting. So … they’re still not finalised as you get, but Saturday that will be at about 12:30, I think I’ve got about seven rides there. Which is great. From there, the next probably 24-48 hours I’ll start doing some form, working out the speed of the races and horses that I’d like to be following or getting on the back of during the running of the race. I’ll be going back and looking at the horses’ that I’m riding previous races if I’ve not ridden them before, just to get my head around how their racing pattern is, and if they’ve got any traits. I’ll be looking at gear changes throughout the day, whether it’s with my rides or other horses in the race. Significant changes in gear would be blinkers and winkers, crossover nose bands etc. that can really indicate to me as to where a horse, wearing blinkers might be, first time, it might mean they’re gonna try and be that bit more forward.

Then on game day I’ll arrive at the races probably an hour prior to my first ride. I’ll normally walk the track, try to get a feel of where the best part of the track’s gonna be, mainly in the straight. From there, I’ll prepare my gear. Get my saddles ready, send them out when requested, go out talk to connections and go out and do my best.

Mark Haywood: Yeah, sure. And on the form, do you do your own form and speed maps? Or do you get a hand with that?

Chris Symons: I’ve got a friend of mine that gives me a hand with speed maps. However I still do my own speed maps but I like to compare notes to get a, you know, different opinion on how someone else might see the race being run. That’s quite handy as well.

Mark Haywood: And you mentioned you walk the tracks. I’ve spoken to a few jockeys and they sort of have varying opinions on how much they take out of it, are you a big track walker and do you pay a lot of attention obviously to the ground?

Chris Symons: Yeah, I do. Sometimes it’s out of your control as to where you can get in a race. Especially going into these winter months, it’s definitely an advantage to get onto the better part of a track, so a must do for me, to go and walk it.

Mark Haywood: Alright. I guess once you get out there and the gates open, in terms of the tactics … I guess it may vary a bit, but is a lot of it your own tactics that you’ll come up with or the trainer or other connections??

Chris Symons: Not at all, obviously the trainer and the connections have done their fair bit of form as well and they might have a different opinion as to how it might be, how the race might be ran, and how that particular horse might be better suited to be ridden, so we have a discussion quite often, more often than not, things don’t go as planned. Horses can miss the kick, certain horses might be more forward in the race than … as compared to how you’ve read your form out. So I mean, yeah a lot’ changed when the gates open, so you’ve got to have a couple of plans up your sleeve and use some sort of initiative when you’re out there.

Mark Haywood: Yeah, right. I guess that all takes a little bit of quick thinking. I guess, once those gates open, in general what’s your number one aim? Is it to get your horse comfortable and where you need to be?

Chris Symons: Well every horse is different Mark. So you go out there with an open mind. Some horses begin better than others, some horses are aggressive during a race, so the last thing you want to do is stir ’em up at the beginning, so you might just come out neutral and hope that that particular horse gets into a nice rhythm and relaxes. Every horse is different as to what you do when the barriers open.

Mark Haywood: And, just another issue, which is pretty big news at the moment, is the whip rules, have you got a view on that or how have you found it?

Chris Symons: No, I’ve seem to have adapted really well to the whip rules. Yeah, I don’t really have an opinion of as to where it should be or what it should be, it seems to be a real grey area at the moment, especially what’s going on with Brent Stanley and connections with what happened the other day. You know I think there’s still a lot to be done to try and improve the rule that we actually have in place currently.

Mark Haywood: But in terms of yourself you haven’t found to much of an issue adapting to it?

Chris Symons: I probably did initially, but we’ve had time to adapt and I seem to have, you know, picked it up no worries.

Mark Haywood: I guess the other issue at the moment, it’s getting a fair bit of air play, is jockey safety, that’s an ever present one for you guys. Do you think there’s anything more that, as an industry, racing can be doing?

Chris Symons: Safety is paramount as you’re well aware. It’s a difficult one. I think racing are doing pretty much all they can in the current climate. With the introduction of plastic running rail which saves lives in my opinion. There’s been a lot of discussion around the helmet in the last 24 months with that new helmet that jockey’s weren’t comfortable with. It was quite large, heavier than previous helmets. Not sure where that lies at the moment. Safety vests, there’s been a lot of discussion since they’ve been in place for however many years, 15-16 years, as to whether they might hinder jockeys, I don’t really have a view on it … I think all that can be done is being done from an industry point of view. Obviously as time progresses, technology and new initiatives put in front of different areas which can definitely help prevent accidents … but it’s an industry that there’s always gonna be accidents. It’s definitely worth trying to keep those numbers low.

Mark Haywood: Sure. Just changing tack a bit, off the track you’ve mentioned you’ve been involved in a couple of initiatives and you do have some projects and that in terms of promoting racing? Is that a passion of yours? Promoting racing as a whole?

Chris Symons: Yeah, I think we lag behind in the promotion of racing compared to other sports. It disappoints me that this industry struggles to evolve compared to other industries. Sporting industries, might I add, I’ll give you a couple of examples, Cricket brought it at 20/20 and has been re-birthed. Boxing it was probably on the downward slope and then they introduced UFC which is, you know, it’s re-created boxing. Even AFL has had its ups and downs, they introduced night games and things like that which has definitely helped them. What’s racing done? Not a great deal. Ten years ago, we introduced night racing that was a big hit and still is, but I don’t know what the answers are Mark, but I think we need to evolve.

Mark Haywood: Also you were one of the main drivers behind RideGuide, so I just wanted to have a bit of a chat to you about that. That started on Ladbrokes a few months back and was … there were a few issues if you like, but it’s back now. What’s been your role in RideGuide? And how did the idea come up?

Chris Symons: RideGuide was an idea that’s been potting along for the last probably 2 years, it’s an initiative which allows the fans of racing to be able to, or the jockeys to be able to engage with the fans of racing. We’ve had our ups and downs with it but we’re currently up and running and we’ve been going for the last two weeks on Ladbrokes and through a lot of consultation with stakeholders in the industry being The Owners Association, Trainers Association, Racing Victoria, Integrity, Sal Perna, obviously The Jockey’s Association, it’s been able to get off the ground and I think it’s a great opportunity for jockeys to promote the sport. I think it’s a great opportunity for the fans to see and hear … you know from a jockey’s perspective as to how they see the race and how they anticipate it being ran and I think it’s just part of evolving like other sports.

Mark Haywood: Sure, is there any plans for the RideGuide, I know a few punters we’ve spoken to. Do you have any plans about, maybe to do something post-race? We see that on some of the feature races but not all racing.

Chris Symons: Yeah. It’s definitely a discussion that we’ve been having. Expanding with Ride Guide but we’re taking baby steps and we’ll just see how it all transpires in the coming months.

Mark Haywood: Yeah, because … as you know, often the ride that a horse is given is a big topic of conversation but I think a lot of the time we hear from punters it’s probably more just a lack of clarity around what the actual tactics were.

Chris Symons: Yeah, definitely Mark, that’s something that we’d like to look in to and fingers crossed we eventually get there, but as I’ve said we’re just taking baby steps, we’ll just see where we end up.

Mark Haywood: Sure and I guess on that side the promotion of racing, any ideas you’ve got in your head that might be coming up?

Chris Symons: Not so much around racing, I’ve been focusing a lot of my time into The Funky Farm, which as I mentioned earlier we hope to open at the end of the year. So I’m just trying to get some publicity around that and yeah, just working … that’s my passion at the moment, along with racing, but that’s taking up a fair bit of my time as you can imagine, with the animals out there, the training of them and trying to get it off the ground.

Mark Haywood: No worries. Well that’s probably all that I’m going to cover today so thanks for your time Chris and good luck down at the ‘bool.

Chris Symons: No worries Mark, you take care, thank you.

Mark Haywood: Thanks Chris.