Fresh off a hattrick at Grafton on Friday and a further winner at Bowraville on Saturday, top jockey Ben Looker is aiming to add to his already impressive season tally at Ballina on Tuesday as he hurtles towards 1000 career winners.
Looker has already ridden 35 horses to victory this season and is just 25 winners shy of 1000 career wins with many years in the saddle ahead of him.
The Port Macquarie-based jockey has ridden 75 and 79 winners respectively in his last two seasons but has set himself the ambitious target of riding over 100 winners this time around, a feat he has managed to do twice in 2017/18 and 2018/19.
“I’ve been having a good season so far,” Looker said.
“Obviously, it is a big help when you are getting on the cattle, it definitely makes it a lot easier. Things have been going really well and I’ve been getting plenty of support and riding winners.
“I had a couple of seasons there where I rode 100 winners in a season, the last couple have been a bit quieter, but I had a few suspensions and things like that where I haven’t ridden for a while. Hopefully this season I can get close to 100 winners again. It’d be great. That’s obviously my ultimate goal this season.
“It’s very hard to break 100 winners in a season when you don’t have a big stable supporting you, which does make it a bit harder, but that just means I get to ride for a lot of smaller stables. You just need a bit of luck and getting on the right horses at the right times and get a win on them, then it can snowball.
“I thought if I had a good season, I could crack the 1000 winners this year. If I could come out and do that it would be a great achievement.”
Looker took another big step towards his goal during the week at Grafton. Grafton has proved a happy hunting ground for him in recent times and he racked up another treble at the track on Friday aboard Red Beryl ($17), Awesome Spirit ($3.30), as well as Alf’s Magic ($2.50) who is trained by his father-in-law Dwayne Schmidt. He then backed that up effort with a further winner at Bowraville on Saturday with Vista Rose ($2.30), again for Schmidt.
“I’ve had a bit of luck in Grafton,” Looker said.
“I’ve ridden a couple of trebles there this season and obviously to ride another one for my father in law at Bowraville on Saturday was great.
“He also has that progressive sprinter coming through in Alf’s Magic who looks pretty promising.”
Looker is booked for four rides at Ballina on Tuesday where he will aim to add to his season’s tally and is most keen on the chances of the last start winner Hardedge ($19) and the John Shelton-trained Super Slick ($26) who gets blinkers on for the first time.
“I’ve only got a small book of rides at Ballina and I’m not sure Matthew Dunn’s horse will run there from the wide gate,” Looker said.
“Hardedge was a good win the other day at Lismore – obviously Lismore is a pretty bias track towards front runners and he broke that pattern to come from back in the field and to the outside.
“Obviously he’s got to go to a Class 1 now but I think the 1600m will suit and the jar out of the track will really play into his hands. He really jumped out of the ground late.
“I also think Super Slick can improve a lot and she is 1 from 1 at Ballina over 1000m.
“I had a fair bit to do with this mare early days. John Shelton had a really big opinion of her. Obviously her first-up run she didn’t step too well and mustered up around them – it was a pretty strong form race.
“The owners of Super Slick, Brian and Betty Paine have been supporters of John Shelton’s stable for a long time. I started at John’s when Im was twelve and they have had some very smart horses. They had Lucky Meteor who was a very good horse to me and my wife Priscilla – they are great owners so I hope I can get another win for them.”
Looker’s main motivation for success comes away from racing however, he admits that finding the next Victorem, who he rode to victory in the 2018 Country Championships Final, is something that also makes the long drives and weekly grind of country racing worth it.
“I have a little boy now so it really makes you want to try and set him up for his life when he’s an adult,” Looker said.
“Obviously, you also want to keep trying to find that next good horse. The cup races are always a focus for me and you are always trying to find those progressive horses coming through.
“Now, with the Country Championships and the Kosciuszko you are always on the lookout for the next horse coming through.
“I was lucky enough to win the Country Championships – it and the Grafton Cup are my two biggest highlights in racing.
“I was also lucky enough to ride in the first Kosciuszko which was also a really big thrill so you are always looking for horses that could progress on to win something like that.”
Looker believes that the next “good” horse may just be in the stable of his former master, John Shelton.
“I’d say a mare like Tara Jasmine could be that next ‘good’ horse,” Looker said. “She’s racing very good this preparation.
“Obviously, she races very well at her home track, but me being a Grafton boy – I think the plan is to give her another couple of runs and then tip her out and bring her back for a race like the Ramornie.
“I think she could really measure up to a race like that if she was at her best.
“She has been carrying these really big weights and hitting the line hard. I think she actually broke 33 seconds carrying 61kg last start – and she was only a Class 5 horse in an Open Handicap.
“She is a very good filly.”
Looker is inspired by some of the great country jockeys of recent times including Greg Ryan and Robert Thompson who rode more than 8,000 winners between them.
“Greg Ryan, Robert Thompson and blokes like Matthew Cahill have been pioneers for country jockeys for a very long time and those three jockeys could probably go anywhere in Australia and hold their own.
“Obviously, you have to do a lot more travelling in the bush than you would if you were riding in the metropolitan but I just like the country lifestyle; it’s a lot more laid back and it’s a lot more enjoyable for me.”
Looker will continue to maintain his momentum at Ballina on Tuesday where the first of the seven-race card jumps at 2:10pm with the track currently rated a Soft (5).
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