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From South Australia to Seattle

July 27, 2005     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Patrick Kerrison
July 17, Auburn, WA - "There’s heaps of differences in riding here than back home,” said Australian rider Chris Symons. Symons, 24, made his way to the United States for the first time just prior to the beginning of the Emerald Downs meet.
“I was running around in circles in Australia,” he said. “I needed a change of scenery and new experiences. Not just as a rider, but in life.”
Symons has won a total of 21 races this meet, placing him ninth in the toughest riding colony Emerald Downs has seen in it’s 10 years of existence.
“I have learned quite a bit since coming here,” he said. “A lot has to do with pace, using the stick and switching leads. I don’t think [in Australia] they realize what sort of difference it can make in a horse’s performance. It will be interesting to how it works when I get home.”
Handicappers have learned something about Symons too. You can make a buck or two with a talented jock many might not know too much about. He has averaged an impressive $17.60 per win. It is the highest of the top 10 riders at Emerald Downs.
Symons left home and school at 14½ years of age and began mucking stalls. No one would take the time to teach him how to be a jockey because they thought he’d be too tall. Wanting to ride anyway, Symons bought an unbroken Shetland pony at age 16 and taught himself.
“He was a crazy son-of-a-gun. He wasn’t broken so all he wanted to do was throw me. He was good at it too, but over time I learned how to stay on.”
At the age of 18 he got his ticket – a riders license – in Victoria, Australia.
“Racing is huge in Australia and there is a lot of money to be won,” Symons said. “Racing there is definitely a bit more aggressive than it is here, too. There’s quite a bit of bumping during a race but unless it’s blatant or visibly intentional, the stewards don’t come down on you as much.
Riding in close quarters is not something Symons is unaccustomed to.
“There are a lot more spills and falls because of the tight riding,” he continued.
He can speak volumes about that. Symons has broken his arm, leg and back from what he nonchalantly calls “a few bad falls.”
“If there’s room for the nose, there’s room for the rest of them,” he joked.
Symons came to the states with the assistance of trainer Doris Harwood. Meeting through a mutual acquaintance, Harwood introduced him to American racing and rides him on most of her stock.
“Chris is a good kid,” Harwood said. “He’s very outgoing and likeable. He can easily go out and make friends. He’s young and hungry [to be successful].”
Harwood gave Symons a leg up onto his first winner in the states aboard Elttaes Stables’ Roanaway Bride.
“It felt great to get my first win early in the meet,” he said. “It was wonderful to get off to a good start.”
Symons went on to explain other differences in the two countries.
“When we use the stick in Australia we use the ‘windmill’ approach’,” he said. “Rhythm is everything! When using my stick, I hit them when their back end is on the ground so they’ll launch into the bridle.
Changing leads is another.
“It isn’t something we concentrate on too much back home. The tracks in Australia are more circular than here. In America they are in more of an oval shape with a long backside and straight. It isn’t that way in Australia.”
“Since it seems we’re always turning we do not rely heavily on what lead a horse is on. I have found that you can get more out of a horse when you switch their leads. You can find an extra gear. This isn’t to say they don’t switch leads back home, they do. But we ride them as they’re comfortable and let them go.”
In addition to what he’s learned from his American contemporaries, he also brought something to the table, which he’s pitched to them.
“It’s called the Jett Hot Jocks Sweat Vest. It is an item you wear to help keep your weight down. It’s an ideal thing for jocks because we always have to watch our weight.
“It’s lightweight and easy to use. You simply turn it on, wait five minutes for it to warm up and you’re all set.”
The Jett Hot Jocks Sweat Vest isn’t just limited to jockeys.
“People have all sorts of uses for it. Anyone who just hates the cold would love it. Plus, those who work outdoors in the winter could make good use of it too.”
Endorsed not only by Chris Symons, two-time Melbourne Cup winner Damien Oliver and American Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens wear it regularly.