It was mid-winter 2012 and Matt McGuren arrived at Newcastle’s Broadmeadow racecourse for one ride at a Saturday meeting, dressed in a wet suit underneath a raincoat.
He had driven from Taree, where he was apprenticed to trainer Ross Stitt at the time, with the heater on in his car.
But this wasn’t about keeping him warm. McGuren had gone to such lengths to ensure he claimed his full 3kg allowance to ride Port Macquarie trainer Tas Morton’s $3.60 co-favourite Juggah Hill at his correct 55kg in a Benchmark 60 Handicap (1850m).
He did that and won the opening race easily that day, then hopped in his car and headed back up the highway.
It wasn’t the first time he had adopted these measures, but saw it as absolutely necessary if he was to achieve his goal.
“My apprentice mentor was former jockey Mal Fitzgerald, and because of my weight problems (the bane of most jockeys) our aim really was to finish my apprenticeship,” McGuren said.
“It was a struggle for sure and there were times I had all but had enough and called it quits, but I got there.”
McGuren not only “got there” five or six years ago, but has continued to stay in the saddle and made an outstanding success of his riding career.
He isn’t one for keeping records – he’s too busy anyway – but his success on Kinkuna at Ballina last Tuesday was win no. 758.
Twice McGuren has eclipsed 100 winners in a season (104 in 2015-16 and 112 the following year), and hasn’t ridden below 68 winners (2017-18) in the last seven seasons.
A magnificent achievement indeed when you consider he rarely rides below 56kg – and even then, sheds 3kg to do so.
This talented and versatile horseman did not set out to become a jockey, and initially his skills involved riding bulls and a few broncs.
“I was an apprentice tiler in Grafton, but was also riding trackwork early mornings before heading off to my job,” McGuren explained.
“Someone suggested about being a jockey, and I started out riding at the picnics at around 64 or 65kg, still having to lose one or two kilos to do that.”
McGuren was apprenticed to Grafton trainer Alan Ryan (who passed away early last year) and was thrilled to win the inaugural 2015 Northern Rivers Racing Association Country Championships Qualifier there for him on $21 roughie Redwolf.
He did a couple of stints on loan to Ross Stitt at Taree, which gave him added opportunities at provincial and Sydney meetings, and the legendary country trainer got him back at one stage to be his foreman when his weight got beyond an acceptable riding level.
“I was travelling to race meetings for Ross to saddle horses instead of riding them,” McGuren joked.
The jockey’s world was shattered on Christmas Eve 2012 when his father Gerry passed away suddenly from a heart attack and he and his fiancé (and now wife) Sam Munro returned home.
Subsequently back in his “old routine”, as he describes it, McGuren got his weight under enough control again to take on a busy schedule.
“I went to Bruce Hill at the Gold Coast, and started having some luck at Saturday meetings in Brisbane,” he said.
“I was also involved with Nathan Tinkler’s Patinack Farm, and did a lot of travelling.
“I was riding at Sydney midweek meetings at Canterbury and Warwick Farm, and then Brisbane on Saturdays.”
Realising his riding career would not last forever and with a wise eye to the future, McGuren and his wife purchased 50 acres at Lower Southgate in the Clarence Valley (only 20kms from Grafton) about
five years ago.
“We also rent another 50 acres next door and run cattle there,” he said.
“At first I was just going to look after horses who were spelling, but now I am also involved in breaking in and pre-training.
“We have an 800m track, a lovely sand arena, 20 boxes and shelters for the spellers.”
When this interview took place late on Wednesday afternoon, McGuren still had “three breakers to do” before calling it a night.
“Sam now has her training licence and has 14 horses in work at the track at Grafton and another six out here at our property,” McGuren said.
The responsibility of being a family man – the couple has two daughters (Makella, 8 and Addison, 5) – has influenced the 31-year-old to throttle back on the amount of travelling nowadays to compete at race meetings.
“Makella is at school now and Addison starts next year, and I want to spend more time with them,” McGuren said.
“I’ve cut back on going to the Gold Coast to ride on Saturdays, and also on the amount of breaking-in I do.
“However, there’s still plenty of work to be done looking after the three business (race riding, helping his wife out riding her horses work and, of course, the Lower Southgate operation).”
McGuren has had another successful start to the season (Kinkuna was his 28th since the beginning of August), coupled with continuing to strengthen his association with leading Murwillumbah trainer Matt Dunn (who now also has a base in Sydney).
The strength of that association can be gauged from the fact that he has already ridden 135 winners for Dunn; nearly 100 more than any other trainer.
“There are still times when I have to bring out the wet suit and raincoat to fulfill race commitments,” McGuren said.
“I can tell you it’s a lot easier taking off 3kg than 6kg or more.
“I’m still enjoying my riding and feel I’m riding well, but there’s a market out as to when I will give it away for good.”
Hoofnote: McGuren’s wife Sam was a former champion apprentice, who won both the Northern Rivers and NSW country junior riding premierships in 2010-11 with 41 wins.
Coincidentally, they began their professional riding careers on the same day – but at different venues.
McGuren kicked off at Bowraville on Boxing Day 2009, and his wife at Ballina.
McGuren’s first of his 758 winners was Almas Lass at Casino on February 6, 2010.
Sam McGuren at Grafton yesterday won her fourth race since taking out her training licence – and guess who she beat? Her $11 chance Cutting Loose (Mikayla Weir), a $6000 buy online in January after fetching $220,000 as a yearling in 2019, relegated husband Matt (riding $5 chance I’m Gunna Cashew for Matt Dunn) into second placing in the Class 1 Handicap (1100m).