Damien Oliver was riding around West Australian outback tracks such as Leinster, a seven-hour drive north of Kalgoorlie, at the same stage of his career as Perth whiz-kid Chris Parnham, who is being compared with him.
With the champion jockey in the home stretch of a steward-imposed holiday, Parnham is out to follow the trail blazed by Ollie to group 1 glory, including the Melbourne Cup and the Hall Of Fame, putting him on a pedestal with the best.
Ollie did easy time, albeit eight months so far with a further two at trackwork to ready him for the spring carnival, after being found guilty of having a bet (on a winner) at Moonee Valley in 2010 in which he handled another fancied runner. It became one of the most bizarre cases of the Australian turf.
Back in Ollie’s home town, Perth, Parnham, who turned 16 early this year, is blazing a trail rarely, if ever, seen before because he started riding only last November.
He carried his L plates for a short period before the winner flow started to gush to his present figure of 74, including 30 in the city.
Problems arise for some so young and so good. However, his father Neville, a former jockey and now trainer, with a long experience with apprentices, figures the teenager can handle it.
”Maintain his form and composure,” the trainer said regarding his immediate future. He has developed several more-than-capable jockeys, including Pat Carbery and Jason Brown, as well as his two eldest sons, Stephen, 27, and Bradley, 23.
”They are all top riders today,” he said. ”I’ve had others who have been talented kids but had difficulties being too young and stupid, and getting too much money too quick, I suppose. That’s the pitfall of being a successful young rider.
”With this kid, money doesn’t worry him in the slightest. I said to him, ‘You’ve accumulated quite a bit of money.’ Four hundred rides, multiply that by $155, apart from percentages, et cetera.
”He’s unfazed, doesn’t interest him, all he wants to know is what he’ll be on next Saturday, ride horses. That’s why he even goes to Kalgoorlie on a Sunday.”
Ollie left at a similar age for Melbourne and Lee Freedman but with only 58 winners on his scorecard.
”I haven’t had offers from the east but with the claim [apprentice allowance] here he is eagerly sought after in the winter months,” Parnham snr said. ”Usually within 20 minutes of weights being released on Tuesday, he has a full book of rides for Saturday. It’s quite incredible really. We would be interested in him going to Sydney or Melbourne just to give it a shot. But with the spring carnival coming up, it’s highly unlikely he would be sought after at that time. We’ll look at what is presented and if there is an opportunity, even if he goes around the provincials and gets more experience.”
Like Ollie, Parnham has saddle pedigree on both sides of his family. ”My wife’s father was a jockey, her brothers were jockeys,” Parnham snr said. ”Christopher has always wanted to be a jockey. You can imagine being in a household that’s quite big in racing with his two brothers riding. Anyway, he was exposed to it quite young and the fact the other boys were riding sort of got to him.
”From a very early age they had him dressed in jockey silks and boots. We had a mechanical horse, so he went from pulling the whip on the corner of a lounge to the mechanical horse. Before, when he went to school, his head space would be watching replays, and his mother would be carting him off to here, there and everywhere when the other boys started.
”That’s been the difference, he’s lived and breathed it all. My other two boys did other sports, didn’t do much horse stuff before they started riding. But Christopher has been an instant success; his rise has surprised us all.
”It took him a while to ride his first winner but it was a good thing. He began to work harder at it. He realised it just wasn’t a matter of sitting on a horse and steering it around. Now he’s going super. Last week Christopher rode five [winners] at Northam, 10 for the week.”
Young Parnham is involved in a premiership battle for the local apprentices’ title with Ben Paterson.
Meanwhile, Ollie is on the way back. Like Darren Beadman and Jim Cassidy, often sidelined for reasons other than health, the spell will benefit him. The issue of being a successful punter – one bet, one winner – won’t keep him out of heaven. The scandal was the way Racing Victoria handled it, being kind in the extreme to Ollie then laying into trainer Robert Smerdon, fined $10,000 for handing over the pelf without knowing from whence and why it came.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.