‘Rising star’ Damon Budler lands Queanbeyan treble

Damon Budler, pictured here on the Rob Potter-trained Kirkton at Parkes last year, won a heat of the Rising Star Series and rode a treble at Queanbeyan on Monday. Photo: Racing Photography.

Damon Budler’s record in the Rising Star Series is perfect, having had two rides for two wins. 

Yet, if you were to ask the 38-year-old apprentice his thoughts on his first win, which came back in February of 2020 when helping Equally Wild to victory at Albury, he would explain that he held very mixed feelings, with a subsequent race fall putting a temporary halt to his apprenticeship.  

“I would have started my apprenticeship three years ago, but I had more than a year off because I did my ACL and MCL in a fall in the heat of the Rising Star Series,” Budler explained.

“I was on a horse call Equally Wild, and it was my only ride at Albury, and it actually won, and I come off after the line and was out for 14 months.

“It was hard coming back; I would never wish that on anybody.”

Budler put that pain behind him at Queanbeyan on Monday, with the 1.5kg claiming apprentice riding a treble and recording his second victory in the Rising Star Series and his first for the 2021/22 season. 

Aboard the Nick Olive-trained Roman Candle, Budler never looked in trouble when winning by 1.59 lengths in the 1460m Class One Handicap.

“I’m two from two I guess,” Budler laughed. 

“It was definitely nice to win it today and get a treble.”

Budler would go on to win on the Rob Potter-trained, Almost Persuaded, in the 1200m Maiden Handicap, again winning comfortably by 1.4 lengths, before helping the Mike Van Gestal-trained Charlie Chap to a 1.18 lengths victory in the 1000m Benchmark 58 Handicap.

Budler said it didn’t take a lot to understand the unique Queanbeyan racecourse, although he believed many people had the wrong read on the tight-turning South East track.

“Everyone has this misconception that you have to lead on the track and that it suits on-pace runners, but it really sets it up for backmarkers and you need to know when you should roll into the race,” Budler said. 

After celebrating his winning-treble, the Canberra-based apprentice said it was important to appreciate the good days in the saddle, hinting they were few and far between at times.

“It’s really nice to get three because there are more bad days than good days,” Budler laughed.

“It was nice to win for my master, Rob Potter, as he is a great horseman, and he has really looked after me (and) the bloke that trained my third winner (Van Gestal) only has two horses in work and he is an old fella, and it gives you real pleasure to ride winners like that.”

The talented hoop is making a habit of riding trebles, with Monday’s Queanbeyan feat the fourth occasion Budler has ridden three winners on a program.

“This is my fourth treble,” Budler said. 

“My first one was right when I started, and it was a non-TAB and I won the Cooma Cup and then I’ve had two trebles at Canberra; one on the acton and one on the grass.”

If riding four trebles isn’t enough for the South African product, Budler has actually ridden five winners at his last five starts. 

Starting off at Tumut on Saturday, Budler won aboard the Craig Weeding-trained Jelt in the 1000m Benchmark 50 Handicap. 

Then on Sunday, Budler made the long trek to Cowra, winning aboard the Allan McRrae-prepared Haralben in the 950m Benchmark 58 Handicap, before taking just three rides for three wins at Queanbeyan on Monday. 

Budler conceded his good run of form could be seen as a purple patch, but the in-form apprentice believed he was never too far away from the winner’s circle. 

“I had the Tumut winner and then one ride at Cowra for one win and three today,” Budler said. 

“I guess you could say it’s a purple patch but in saying that, I’ve ridden winners consistently throughout my whole apprentice. 

“I’ve never gone 20 or 30 rides without a winner and before I went on holidays, I went 12 rides without a win and that would nearly be my longest time between drinks.”

Surprisingly, Budler, who has been in Australia for nearly eight years, was nearly lost to the racing industry, and it was a chance opportunity to kick off his apprenticeship that now has him as one of the more sought-after claimers in Southern NSW. 

“I couldn’t be an apprentice in South Africa. They declined me and said I was too big, and they weren’t far wrong,” Budler laughed. 

“After that, I came over to Australia and had no interest in riding horses, but I ended up working on the ground in a stable and after I had enough of cleaning boxes, I started riding again and it went from there.”

Over 400 starters and 67 winners later, Budler is loving life in Australia, and while he is linked to a small Canberra stable with Rob Potter, he explained there were plenty of perks being based in Canberra. 

“Because I’m apprentice to a smaller yard, it does free me up a bit to ride work elsewhere, but I try and stick to Keith Dryden and Nick Olive who have supported me,” Budler said.

“I’ve had a bit of luck with Todd Smart and Matt Dale too, and they have looked after me just as much, so I tend to stick with what and who I know.

“It can be really cliquey around Canberra, but they have all been good for me, so I try and ride for them.”

As far as what the future holds for Budler, he was quick to shoot down any idea of returning to South Africa.

“I definitely see Australia as home,” Budler said. 

“One of the things that I was really taken by when I moved here was how welcoming it is and how at home everyone makes you feel, and I wouldn’t feel right calling anywhere else home.”

Punters and racing fans can follow Budler and his hot run at Wagga today when he jumps aboard the Rob Potter-trained Kirton in the 1200m Class Two and above Benchmark 58 Handicap and the Wayne Carroll-trained Salute Again in the 1000m Maiden Handicap.