Newfound outlook has Damon Budler in career-best form

Damon Budler has been riding in fantastic form. Image: Bradley Photos.

Damon Budler has been in flying form, with the Canberra-based South African riding ten winners from his past 50 starts. 

Enjoying much of his success on his home track, Budler has also ridden doubles at Moruya and Queanbeyan in recent weeks, along with other victories at Wagga, Albury and the Sapphire Coast. 

“I’ve been having a bit of luck,” Budler quipped when interviewed by NSW Country and Picnic Racing. 

“I’ve been riding a lot of work, and there’s nothing that comes without hard work, and as soon as your work stops, opportunities dry up, and I’ve got to keep working all the time.”

Previously indentured to Rob Potter, Budler parted ways with the Canberra trainer after his apprenticeship.

“When I finished my apprenticeship last year, I decided to stay in Canberra and spread myself around a bit, and I’ve been freelancing,” Budler said. 

“I’ve mainly been riding for Gratz Vella and enjoy helping the small stables, like Scott Jamieson, who has just started training. 

“Plus, Becky (Byrne) badly needed a rider, and I helped her. I’ve also received support from people I’ve ridden for over the years as an apprentice.”

Budler is committed to supporting his trainers, which means early starts at Thoroughbred Park and long days on the road as he looks to consolidate his position in the South East jockey’s ranks. 

“I’m up at 4 am every morning, Monday to Saturday, and ride work on race days,” Budler said. 

“It doesn’t matter how long the day is; I am up early the next morning. 

“It’s a personal thing for a jockey and how much they want to put into the sport, and some people have been luckier than others without putting in as much, but I was taught that you get what you work for.” 

Rewarded for his effort, Budler scored a winning double at Queanbeyan on Monday.

Riding for long-time supporter Paul Facoory, he won on No Escaping This ($10) in the 1600m Class One/Maiden Plate.

Two races later, he backed up for Gratz Vella and guided Astunner ($3) to his third career victory in the 1460m Benchmark 58 Handicap. 

It was a rewarding win, with Budler suggesting a gear change that has seen the four-year-old turn his form around in recent starts. 

“It was a very good result,” Budler said. 

“I picked out the horse once it had a let-up, and I said to Gratz it would win early in his prep, but for some reason, the horse didn’t turn up at his first few starts, and I put my hand up and said maybe it’s time to change the batsman.

“Then, with his next lot of work, I said to Gratz, ‘Let’s try some new gear.’ When I came back after that bit of work, I told him we’d figured something out and to keep me on for one more start. 

“At his very next start, he ran second, then second again, and then he won at Queanbeyan.

“I messaged Gratz afterwards and thanked him for his patience. Credit to him as he said it was a team effort.”

While he’s enjoying a golden run of results, Budler isn’t ready to rest on his laurels.

“The racing game is one where you keep building momentum,” Budler said. 

“In order for a good run to become good form, you need to keep riding winners, and in order for people to consider you a good jockey, you need to carry that good form for even longer.

“It does make it a little bit easier to get up in the morning, but I find that the more I lose, the harder I’ll work, but if I’m winning, I’m happier to work.”

At 41, Budler has been in the nation’s capital for a decade.

A career promising so much has been impacted by injuries and suspension, and he conceded he nearly gave the sport away. 

“Late last year, after I had finished my apprenticeship and was struggling, I had a conversation with Jim Walsh about giving race riding away,” Budler said. 

“The other day, he came up and said to me, aren’t you glad you didn’t give it away? Coming from someone like Jim, it was very motivating to keep working hard.

“You go through the suspensions and stuff, and stewards like him are a credit to the sport, as they make you better as a rider; they are strict, but it is what we need.”

While Budler has earned the ire of Racing NSW stewards over the years, he said a frank post-race incident with Danny Beasley was the ‘turning point’ in his career. 

“One of the biggest turning points for me was when I was riding at Canberra, and I almost knocked Danny Beasley over, and he turned around to me and said, ‘You really don’t care about me, yourself, or the horse’,” Budler explained.

“It really stuck a chord, and I thought, why did I do it? I am not someone who doesn’t care. I love horses, and I’d hate for anything bad to happen to any horse I ride or any other jockey. 

“I made an adjustment right there and then, and with that advice from senior riders and a good steward, it’s played a big role in me maturing as a rider.”

With a newfound outlook, Budler will look to keep the good form rolling at Moruya on Friday.