“And if I happen to be the reason a horse doesn’t win or doesn’t do as well as it should because of a mistake on my part, I feel a little extra guilt because there are a lot of people who want me to get them out of trouble or end their day well.
But can a jockey really have that much impact on the betting markets? Or is it just a racing myth that every east coast player only backs one runner at the end of the day in Perth?
“It’s not a myth,” says Tabcorp’s Andrew Georgiou. “Before, it happened all the time. If you’ve had a lean day and are trying to hang out at Ascot, you’ve only looked at one man in the west – and that was Willie Pike.
It’s only the early days but Tabcorp, like most of the other big Australian bookmakers, hasn’t reported a significant drop in turnover on Perth races since Pike packed his bags, due to his vaccination status, for the hustle and bustle of Sydney. jockey room.
TopSport manager Tristan Merlehan says Pike’s mounts accounted for a huge volume of smaller bets from recreational bettors. But professional, unsentimental syndicates would even the market with their late money, most often on other horses not ridden by Pike.
Yet there is one area where Pike’s absence is hurting bookmakers.
“The only significant change we can see is when we run jockey challenges [markets for most successful rider during a meeting] on the Perth races there is a major downturn on those,” said Ladbrokes Australia boss Dean Shannon.
On Saturday, Pike will take part in day one of the Championships in soggy Royal Randwick, trying to win his first Group 1 race in Sydney since opting out of Perth.
Pike pulled out of the massive Perth Cup meeting on New Year’s Day when Premier Mark McGowan ordered all racing fans to be vaccinated twice. The horse he was supposed to ride, Peters-owned Midnight Blue, won the race.
“I said to him, ‘You can’t do anything else with your career, so you have to go to Sydney [where vaccination is not mandated for industry participants]’” Says Peters, who gave Pike the ride on Inspirational Girl in the $3million Doncaster at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
I told him ‘you can’t do anything else with your career, so you have to go to Sydney
His rival Sydney runners initially balked at the switch because he refused to get a COVID-19 shot (Pike says he had a bad reaction to a flu shot when he was older young). They requested that Pike be given his own room away from the current main cohort.
But since his arrival, Pike has stayed out of the spotlight and pledged not to cause any trouble. He traveled to distant tracks to win support from coaches and owners, scoring a hat-trick as recently as Thursday at Newcastle.
After almost every meeting, he’ll call a 92-year-old man and talk about his day.
Former trainer Jack Cockell served as Pike’s first boss. He was introduced to Pike, 13, the youngest of four boys who grew up near Kalgoorlie, by Pike’s uncle.
“He basically assessed me on the spot to see if I could become a jockey,” says Pike. “He just looked at me and said, ‘You look me in the eye, you have good shoulders, you presented yourself well so it looks like you have what it takes’. I just thought that I would be a miner, because that’s what everyone did in Kalgoorlie.
Until Cockell surrendered his training license a few years ago, Pike still rode the track for his former boss once a week.
“I always said he was a much better man than he was a fucking jockey,” Cockell says. “He was only half his height at the time, but he’s still the same person he is today.
“He was here for six and a half years when he came and we never had a crossword. Oh, one day he went to the front on one of our horses and I said to him, ‘Next time you’ll go to the front on one of our horses, you won’t ride it’. That’s how he learned to ride behind. William never, ever rode one of my horses he rode to win. And I don’t care where you go, you wouldn’t have a better father than him.
Late last year, Pike made a documentary on the wall in which a film crew followed him during the week and during a busy day preparing and riding at Ascot races.
It showed the jockey meticulously cutting up school meals for his children and collecting eggs from the chicken coop. The first place to find a jockey at races is usually the row of sports cars in the parking lot. Pike smashes his way through the gates in a family SUV.
“At heart, he’s a country boy who, when he comes to town, takes it all at his own pace,” says coach Wayne Hawkes. “He is not impressed by it.”
But what makes Pike so good?
“He’s relaxed and he listens,” says Hawkes, who trains in partnership with his dad John and brother Michael, and will give Pike chances for his first Group 1 in Sydney with Masked Crusader (TJ Smith Stakes) and Magic (Sires Produce Stakes). “He wants to learn and he’s in no rush.
“When you ride Ole Kirk in a Caulfield Guineas, and he’s hardly ever seen the horse before, you’re under a bit of pressure. I think we stood there for three minutes and talked about everything but the horse. The rest was history.
Like Winx rider Hugh Bowman, Pike has long been seen as a jockey who rides his races on feel and pace, rather than a predetermined speed map where stewards and form analysts expect the horses fall into a certain position given the features of a galloper.
As Cockell taught him, Pike rarely leads horses. In fact, it’s curious to see him even settle in the first half of the field.
He is not a rider who leans heavily on the whip, preferring to coax horses with his hands and heels. It leaves the arch of the foot in irons, rather than the riders of modern ballerinas, who swing in stirrups on tiptoe.
As with most top athletes, there is no harsher critic of Pike than himself. He’s beaten to an all-time favorite in the feature race on documentary day after finding interference down the straight, and it’s as if he’s at a funeral when he speaks to the camera afterwards. .
“I guess I’m a little behind, but I just like winning,” he said on the eve of Doncaster-Derby Day. “Winning is what motivates me. I just want to win as often as possible. You don’t get tracking like [I have] to run last all the time.
“And I’m glad they’re cheering on my name, but at the same time it’s very strange.”