Champion dad beams at son's jumps victory

OUT OF MY WAY: Troy Harris on King Piccolo (pink) dodges the riderless It’s A Message at the last fence of the Waikato Hurdles.
OUT OF MY WAY: Troy Harris on King Piccolo (pink) dodges the riderless It’s A Message at the last fence of the Waikato Hurdles.

"What's that? A neck brace?" master jockey Noel Harris inquired as he held out a hand in congratulations and saw his son Troy holding a prize that went with his win in the Waikato Hurdles on King Piccolo.

Just moments earlier the senior statesman of New Zealand jockeys told how jumps jockeys "were either mad or broke, or both."

But nobody on course enjoyed seeing Troy's skills in the saddle more than Noel, particularly as he was the least inexperienced rider in the field and had to cope with a riderless horse hampering his charge to the line. It was only young Troy's eighth ride over jumps, and came just nine days after his first win over hurdles in a minor race at Wanganui.

But he showed many of the skills in the saddle which saw him pip Noel in the 2000 Guineas at Riccarton in 2008, when Tell A Tale and Il Quello Veloce went across the line locked together.

"That was just about as good as winning the Group One," said Harris revelling in his return to the saddle.

Harris' career hit a major roadblock in March, 2010, when he was disqualified for 21 months, 18 months for a dishonest act in trying to substitute someone else's urine during drug testing and three months for failing to give a sample.

It came a year after he was outed for three months for testing positive to cannabis.

Harris spent a year in Australia doing a landscaping job, when his weight ballooned to 72kg, and his riding days looked to be well over.

"Troy got really solid and he tried a couple of times to get his weight down," Noel Harris said.

"But when you're busting your guts to lose weight all the time you end up like a zombie." But Troy started schooling some horses and took a couple of jumps rides at the end of last season with the view to getting his licence to ride in highweights.

And two third placings on Supercharged served only to make him even hungrier for the excitement of raceday.

"Troy did the right thing," Noel said. "He didn't rush into it and had a good think about it.

"We talked about riding over jumps and the risks. There aren't as many jumps races in New Zealand these days but it might open the door for him to ride in Australia next season.

"I loved schooling horses when I was an apprentice and thought I might give it a go," Noel said. "I was game enough but common sense prevailed. I thought I could ride Kumai but even he fell once." Troy came perilously close to being taken out yesterday when the riderless It's A Message started running round among the leaders in the home stretch.

"I was a bit concerned going into the last fence," Troy said. "For a while it looked like he was going to come back to the inside fence but when he ran out it actually helped me a bit." Instead Mathew Gillies on topweight Sea King and Isaac Lupton on Aintree were forced to ride more cautiously, leaving Harris and King Piccolo three-quarters of a length clear.

Sea King, under his 70kg, battled back bravely to take second by a neck after looking beaten earlier.

Harris said he hoped King Piccolo's trainer Wayne Hillis might now have more horses for him to ride.

"I'm being a bit selective at the moment, just riding the ones I know." Two races later Troy experienced the other side of jumps riding when he crashed in front of the stands on Jack Romanov in the maiden steeplechase, escaping unhurt.

He didn't need a neck brace but the boot drier he won will come in handy after he spent several minutes walking round looking for his lost whip

Sunday Star Times