It’s a long way from the stately surrounds and pageantry of Royal Ascot and riding for the Queen to one of Australia’s most iconic bush races, but English jockey Billy Cray will have fond memories of his first Wallabadah Cup.
Cray finished the annual New Year’s Day meeting with a winning double including the feature, where he rode Still Undaunted to a head win.
It continued a good nine days in the saddle for the 29-year old, after he rode a winner at Scone on Saturday and a double at Bathurst the previous Saturday.
The London native has been in Australia for about 14 months.
After riding in Bahrain over the English winter, he came to Australia to visit friends at Warwick Farm.
“I was just coming out for a holiday,” he said.
“Then I saw the prizemoney and I thought I’d give it a go, give it a year.”
He didn’t need that long. Six months into the planned stint, he rang his bosses back home and informed them he wasn’t coming back.
He is sponsored by Scone’s Jenelle Butler and Barry McDonald, and also rides work for Brett Cavanough, who he was riding for at Wallabadah.
He has loved every minute of his adventure so far. “I’ve never lived in the country before,” he said.
The only downside is the sunscreen he has to lather on to protect his fair complexion from the harsh summer sun.
Cray’s love of horse racing was sparked as a youngster when he tagged along with his father “to the bookies”.
“I used to go with him and pick colours,” he said.
Later he used to wag school and go to the bookies and “study the horses”.
Dreaming of becoming a jockey, he enrolled at the British Racing School at age 16, beginning a journey that has seen him ride in Germany, ride winners at Ascot, and even ride a winner for the Queen.
“It was only a little race,” he said.
He was “maybe 21” at the time, and he has never heard of the horse again.
One of his finest moments was winning the Stewards Cup on Evens and Odds for David Nicholls in 2010.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve been given chances and it’s worked out,” Cray said.
He said the downhill slope, one of the unique traits of Wallabadah, was just like home.
He added that the main difference between racing in the two countries was Australia’s much more tactical nature.
“They’re all short turning tracks,” he said. “They’re not really rhythm races. They’re all stop start. The tracks are all so long at home.”
He said it took him about six months to adapt to Australian racing, and it had probably only really been in the last month that things had started really going well.
His Wallabadah double took him to 15 wins, to go with 15 seconds and 16 thirds from 291 starts.
Cray will be hoping to continue his winning form at Tamworth on Friday when he rides Armageddon On It for Les Roberts in the Advanced Inland Security Class 3 Handicap.
He has also been booked to ride Roberts’ White Eagle in the Thread Effects Class 1 Handicap, although it is only an emergency at this stage.