It was a special day at Muswellbrook on Monday for Ben Looker, who brought up his 1000th winner as a jockey.
Riding the David Atkins-trained Rockbarton Roman, the 31-year-old was able to guide the Newcastle galloper to victory in the 1500m Benchmark 58 Handicap.
Being a Monday country meeting, there was no real fanfare after the result, and while Looker was hoping to land the milestone winner closer to home, he was thrilled to bring up the 1000 victories.
“Approaching Port (Macquarie) on Saturday, I was on 998 (winners) and I knew that I had two winners to go, and when I won the first race, I was hoping to do it at Port, especially now that I live there, and it would have been nice to get it in front of everyone, but it wasn’t meant to be and I only rode the one on the day,” Looker said.
“It was a relief at Muswellbrook. I didn’t want it hanging over my head for a couple of weeks but not many people knew it was my 1000th winner.
“Ash Morgan, who is a good friend, he actually high fived me after the winning post and he was so happy for me.”
Looker said it was on the long trip back home to Port Macquarie that the achievement started to sink in, as he began to field calls and messages of congratulations.
“On the four-hour drive home, I was able to sit back and reflect on my career so far and the things I have achieved, and I’m very proud of what I have done so far,” Looker said.
“When I eventually retire and sit back and think about it, it will be something that really stands out for me.”
Looker has been riding since 2006, with the Glen Innes product kicking off his career in Grafton before a short stint in Sydney with Gai Waterhouse, which then led to him moving back up north and settling in Port Macquarie.
“You have to go back to 2006 for my first win. It was my second ride in a race for Johnny Shelton on Unfair at Grafton,” Looker said.
“Back then I was a young kid, and only 16 and I was very new to my career and that was a massive thrill.
“We had moved to Grafton when I was young, and my mum and dad were there, my grandfather and uncle came up from Glen Innes and it was a pretty special moment.”
Looker admitted that he never envisioned riding 1000 winners, and he explained it all came down to hard work and persistence.
“If you had told me back then that I would ride 1000 winners, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I would tell you now that you only get out what you put in,” Looker said.
“I only sat on a horse for the first time at 14 (years) and 9 months and that was to literally learn to ride around the back paddock at John Shelton’s place, and to think I’ve gone from that to riding 1000 winners is pretty amazing.
“Stephen Traecey, who was his stable jockey at the time; he and John taught me how to ride but I can only ride in a jockey’s saddle; put me in a stock saddle or anything like that and I have no idea.”
For a relatively young jockey, who still has his career ahead of him, Looker already boasts some big wins, and he explained there were two victories that stood out from the rest.
“I would say the Country Championship final on Victorem four years ago was my biggest moment riding,” Looker said.
“That was an amazing thrill and to be the first country jockey to win it; that was special.”
“Plus, winning the Grafton Cup on Sacred Day for Tony Pike from New Zealand was a huge win.
“I remember being 14 and strapping horses that went out for the Grafton Cup and I remember thinking I would want to do that one day, and I was lucky enough to pick up a ride on Sacred Day (in 2019) because not many could ride at 54kg, and to win was something I’ll never forget.
“The Grafton Carnival is the best carnival in country NSW, and to grow up and learn everything there and to win my hometown cup was massive thrill.”
Still, there is one race eluding Looker, and he said he will continue to try and win a Glen Innes Cup before he hangs up the goggles.
“I was born in Glen Innes and lived there until I was seven or eight, but I go back there every year for the cup meeting,” Looker said.
“I would love to win a Glen Innes Cup; I’ve run a few placings in it and it’s a race I’m still trying to win.”
Looker doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, and he said he wants to bring up 2000 winners before even considering retirement.
“I haven’t done anything else except ride horses, and I wouldn’t be much good at anything else,” Looker laughed.
“My worse fall was when I was concussed and I had vertigo symptoms for two months, and I have broken a collarbone and wrist, but I have been pretty lucky with injuries.
“Barring any more serious injuries, I can’t see why I won’t ride for another 20 years and to potentially get another 1000 winners would be great.”
Looker will get his chance to ride winner number 1001 at Grafton on Thursday, with the hoop taking seven rides before backing up at Tamworth on Friday for the Tamworth Cup meeting.