Local Jockey Geoff Snowden says that while the prize money might be smaller than in the city, country horse racing certainly has its own rewards.
> Where and when did you do your apprenticeship?
I spent a couple of years here in Armidale and got my ticket to ride in 1980. I did two years then went away to Sydney for eighteen months, working for Geoff Maynes in his stables.
We ended up moving to Warwick Farm, trained some group winners and went really well. Then I had a fall and got hurt and had nearly 12 months off, so I came back here to where it all began in 1984 – and have been here ever since.
> Did you always know you wanted to be a jockey?
No, but I got to the point where no one was going to let me do anything else (laughs). I was pretty little, so I thought, “That’ll do.” I had gone to the races since I was a little fella, and my uncle, cousin, dad and grandfather all had times riding, race riding and doing track work – it’s always been part of the family.
> Do you have family here?
I married a girl from Guyra – actually her brother is a local racehorse trainer, and our two kids go to Duval High School. My parents live on the coast, my sister lives in Moss Vale, where I’m originally from. Most of my family live in the Southern Highlands area.
> Where do you race now?
I’m registered as a country jockey, but I can ride interstate, provincial or metropolitan races. There’s no restriction; it’s just that I’m based in Armidale. I go wherever I get the rides. Recently I’ve been out at Coonamble, Bingara, Walcha and Moree. I also find myself traveling to Port Macquarie, Goondawindi, Tamworth and down around Scone.
> Do you work for a particular trainer?
Not really. I’m what you’d call freelance. I generally work for around five different trainers. I ride every morning and ride for them when I can on race days. I also have outside clients and ride for them on weekends.
> What does a typical ‘day at the office’ mean for you?
Normally I get up, go to the track and do some work, which takes about two to three hours. You do your five, six or seven horses and then on race day you do the same thing: you go to the track, have a sweat before the races before going home, packing your bag, having a shower and going wherever you have to go. Then you come home, go to bed and do it all again the next day.Ninety per cent of the time I go to a meeting then come home on the same day.
> What was your most memorable moment?
The most recent one was winning the Coffs Harbour Cup on Derivative Receipt for Keith Hiscox, just before the equine influenza broke. I’ve ridden for Keith since I was an apprentice, and all the owners of Derivative Receipt come from here. That was probably the richest race I’ve won.
After making a mid race move to sit on the tail of the leader Barig, I took Derivative Receipt to the front on the turn and stole a winning break before holding off the Scone-trained Fair Trial to score by a half length, with last year’s winner Mr Gold Fire third.
I’ve won a couple of metropolitan races in Brisbane for local trainers and owners. I’ve also had some pretty successful rides at the Glen Innes and Deepwater cups.
> So it’s not about the money all the time?
Not all the time. People can get just as big a buzz out of winning small country races as winning a $100,000 race. Winning a race like the Armidale Cup with an Armidale horse, Armidale trainer and Armidale jockey can be as good as winning any race. Country races just have a good feeling about them, with people coming from everywhere, fashions in the field and the rest. It would be a real shame to see these meetings get rationalised into the bigger centres.
> How did you cope with the equine influenza episode recently?
I was lucky in that I got work with the Department of Primary Industries, helping them do the vaccinating and as a horse handler going around with the vets. We had someone doing the paperwork, took blood and all that sort of thing. As a unit, our area went from Black Mountain to Bendemeer and out to Enmore and Kingstown. I think we did over 5,000 horses twice – that was over 10,000 injections!
> The Armidale Cup is held on the 16 March. For those who haven’t been, can you tell them what they’re missing out on?
It’s just a top day. The local days are really good, because you get a great range of people. It’s a half-day holiday, so you usually get a really good roll up of people. You get your regular punters as well as those who’ve never been before, but think, “Why not; I’ll give it a go.” For lots of people it’s the one race meeting they go to all year.
Lots of local businesses put up tents and provide food and drink for a really reasonable price. The atmosphere is fantastic and it doesn’t really matter if you get beaten. You also get a good chance to get close up and see the actual racing, which is different to something like the Melbourne Cup, where you might have a good time, but not see any racing at all.
> What do you like about the Armidale racing scene?
Without being biased, I think it’s one of the better clubs in our region. The committee does a great job, with people like John Cannon, Jim Dedes and Rod Watt. They will promote the races really well and do what they have to in order to get the horses, trainers and jockeys to come to a meeting and make it successful.
If you ask them to do something with the track or the jockey’s room, they’ll get it done, which doesn’t happen everywhere. It’s for this reason that people come to Armidale and don’t go to other places; they come from interstate because they like the club and the people who run it.
> Thank you Geoff.