Interview: Getting to know Shane Dye
Shane Dye dominated Australian racing during the late 80’s and 90’s winning just about every big race on the calendar. A quick look at his CV shows you 93 Group One wins by the time he was 33. Throw in two Sydney Premierships, four Golden Slippers, a Cox Plate, a Melbourne Cup and four Derbies and nine Oaks and you can see why he has been rated amongst the all time greats.
He is no shrinking violet and has never been backwards in coming forward. Shane may rub some people up the wrong way and there has no doubt been many a debate in the pub as to why he divides opinion so much.
One thing is for sure, he was a Champion jockey who knew how to get the best out of a horse and when it came to the big races he had no peer. His timing and tactically judgement made him a hit with many trainers and owners.
I caught up with him during the week to have a chat about his career and he is still as passionate, knowledgeable and quick witted as he was when he dominated the race courses of Australia.
Arm chair critics have called you cocky, out spoken, fiery, opinionated, a mug lair, brash, then on the other hand you get the owners and trainers saying things like respect, admiration, confidence, competitive, tenacity, the will to win and belief. You certainly have the full spectrum covered!
Well I suppose I was all of the above. What can I say? All I wanted to do was to promote racing and to win the big races. It is as simple as that.
Who inspired you to become a jockey?
I was born to be a jockey. No one inspired me. I knew when I was born that I wanted to be a jockey. I was riding when I was eighteen months old and had my first pony when I was three years old. I would be on a horse everyday after school.
Who did you look up to in the early days?
The leading jockey in New Zealand was David Peake and I kept scrap books on him and I would write to him and he would send me photos. I admired him and looked up to him. Then when Lance O’Sullivan started he was my best friend and he was three years older than me and I wanted to be like him.
December 28, 1982 was a very special day? Did you ever imagine at the time that you would rise to the level you did?
I don’t think you ever really think about it at that age. All you are trying to do is get started and ride winners. On that day I went to the races; and in those days jockeys were not declared for horses so you would get to the races and pick up rides so I did not even know I was on that horse until I was at the races.
It was something that was amazing and a great thrill. When you are that young you dream of winning big ones and you want to, however do you think you will? I think that you are thinking that you will but you still want to do it.
That is amazing to think that you went to the races not knowing your rides for the day.
A lot of the time it was like that. You had rides but then you would go to the races and pick up others. What I would do was always sit by the door in the jockey’s room because people would walk through there like the trainers so they could see mw first if they needed a rider for their horse. And that’s why I always sat by the door.
You had two Champion apprentice jockey titles in New Zealand. Was the idea to move to Sydney straight away? How did it come about?
What actually happened was that in 1984 I went to ride for Peter Vella on a horse in the Caulfield Cup called La Grigia. I rode her in the Herbert Power and she was the 9/2 equal favourite however the track was rock hard and she didn’t go on with it so she didn’t run in the Caulfield Cup.
I stayed on for a week and I actually rode for Neville Begg when I was there through Peter Vella. I could not believe the racing in Melbourne. It was amazing with all the atmosphere and hype.
When I got back to New Zealand I read a story where they did a comparison between Darren Gauci and I. Darren was the superstar Melbourne apprentice and he broke all the records. And he actually rode his first winner on the very same day as me. I could not believe the attention he was getting and the money he was making and what it was like over there.
When I was in New Zealand I was the Champion apprentice jockey; who I was and what I had done and the amount of money I was making was nothing. I decided then that I was leaving as soon as possible.
The trainer Brian Smith who was originally from New Zealand and trained Balmerino was training at Wyong and was moving to Rosehill. Alan Jones had recommended me to him as a stable jockey. He rang me up and I was still an apprentice as I had not finished my time and had a few months to go. I was only 18 and Mr O’Sullivan allowed me to go and ride for him.
You won the 1989 Melbourne Cup on Tawriffic. Was that the moment when the racing public stood up and took notice of you as a jockey?
No not at all. When I got to Australia at the age of 18 I ran third on the Sydney jockeys premiership on my first year there behind Jimmy Cassidy and Mick Dittman.
I turned up to ride in Australia and Jimmy Cassidy was riding for Brian Mayfield-Smith who had hundreds of horses and Mick Dittman had Tommy Smith who had been a leading trainer for 35 years or so.
I ran third against jockeys like Peter Cook, Ron Quinton, Darren Beadman, Johnny Dugan, John Marshall, Larry Olsen and Gavin Duffy. It was very strong so it was quite obvious they had taken note of me already.
You became the king of the juveniles winning the Golden Slipper four years in a row from 1989 to 1992 on Tierce, Canny Lad, Courtza and Burst. How do you rate them against each other?
They were all different. Tierce and Burst won Triple Crowns which was unheard of at that time. Tierce he was a Champion and a freak. He was an amazing two year old and was just outstanding. Courtza won the Blue Diamond-Golden Slipper double which I do not think has been done since.
Canny Lad he was just so tough. He was beaten in the Blue Diamond but should have won it as he was unlucky. As for Burst she was just as tough as they come. She did not have the class of the other three.
You have ridden some of very good horses over the years like Tie the Knot, Octagonal, Super Impose, Nothin Lieca Dane, Danewin. Has there been a stand out?
It is very hard as I have ridden a lot of great horses and no disrespect to the owners however I do not think I have ridden a Champion. When I say a Champion what I mean is a horse that can make three runs in its race like Kingston Town and can run 1200 metres or two miles and can do anything.
In saying that I rode Tie the Knot who won 13 Group One races and was one of my favourites of all time to ride and I had a great connection with him. I also rode horses like Bonecrusher and Lets Elope. I practically rode every good horse at that stage.
For me it was very hard to single one out however they were all special in their own way. Slight Chance; people don’t realise was probably the greatest filly to race in Australian history. I think she has won more Group Ones than any other filly to race in Australia.
Has time changed your perspective on your ride in the 1992 Caulfield Cup on Veandercross?
You chalked up 93 Group 1 wins then accepting an offer to ride in Hong Kong. Is that something you look back on now and wonder what could have been?
I am happy with my decision but yes I do look back. I see Jimmy Cassidy riding 100 Group One winners now. When I left I was 33 and I was riding the best two year old Assertive Lad; the best three year old Shogun Lodge; and I was riding the best weight-for-age horse Tie the Knot. There wasn’t a horse I couldn’t get on.
I was the No.1 jockey for Gai Waterhouse who I had a great working relationship with and we never had one problem. We understood each other. As back up I could also ride the best horses for Bobby Thomsen, Clarry Conners, Guy Walters and Graham Rogerson. So I had a great rapport with all the top trainers.
I honestly believe I would have ridden closer to 200 Group One winners than 100. Records don’t lie, facts and figures don’t lie and if you have looked at my record over the previous ten years the worst year I had was 8 Group One winners and there are more Group One races now than there was back then.
Now I look at these jockeys and they are flat out winning 8 Group Ones and they say what a huge year they have had. If I rode 8 Group One winners in a season it was a very bad year.
I am not trying to be smart but I would have definitely ridden closer to 200 Group Ones than anything. Put it this way, I was 33 years old and just getting to the peak of my life and I had already ridden 93 and was already riding every best horse in Australia.
What was the most rewarding part of riding in Hong Kong?
I think you were treated with a lot of respect back then by the officials. They treated you very well and naturally the money and the lifestyle too.
And what was the hardest?
I think it is hard anywhere. I think in Hong Kong a lot of people can’t handle living there. You either can or you can’t however I could and I was very lucky. A lot of wives struggle in Hong Kong and that is the problem.
You finished second on three occasions in the Hong Kong Jockey Premiership. Just how tough a place was it to ride?
In Hong Kong you have to prove yourself. I didn’t find it harder there than in Australia. In Australia you have a lot of good riders and you need to handle the owners and trainers and the press. It is the same in Hong Kong. I didn’t find it any harder and just went about my business.
Where do you rate the international jockeys you rode against in Hong Kong compared to the Australian jockeys?
As Australians we over wrap our own jockeys and we don’t realise how good a lot of the overseas jockeys actually are. When I was in Australia I did that.
I was very impressed with Ryan Moore six years ago when I rode against him and mentioned that too many people in Australia. When he got beaten on Mount Athos in the 2012 Melbourne Cup I had people telling me he couldn’t sit on; which is a loud of rubbish. Even after Mount Athos he was still probably the best jockey in the World. Then when he won the 2014 Melbourne Cup on Protectionist everyone takes notice and says how great he is as a jockey.
I guy like Christophe Soumillon is better than any jockey riding in Australia.
In Australia you had guys like Jimmy Cassidy and Mick Dittman; they could of ridden anywhere in the world and been very competitive and just as good.
I think right now Melbourne lacks good jockeys. In Sydney I rate James McDonald he is a super star and could go anywhere in the world and ride. I am also impressed with Tommy Berry and Hugh Bowman however at this stage they are still a bit behind James.
I have ridden against the best in the world like Shoemaker, Stevens, Kinnane, Dettori and Moore. And the one thing I do notice the most is they don’t understand why Australian jockeys get their horses off balance.
They would rather sit three wide and let their horses have a trouble free run and be in stride instead of one off the fence getting buffeted.
“P.S- Please stop calling me about Damien Oliver. Of course he is a superstar and one of the best. I have the utmost respect for him and he could ride anywhere in the World. I was talking about the jockey ranks in general”
Joe Moreira has now taken over the mantle from Douglas Whyte. How do you compare them?
Whyte has won 13 Hong Kong Jockey Premierships which will probably never be done again, however at their peak there is no comparison. Moreira has lengths on Whyte and here is why.
His biggest asset is that he understands pace and he is very patient in a race and always finds a run. He doesn’t make mistakes. The difference between the two is that Whyte makes a lot of mistakes in races even although he rides a lot of winners and Moreira doesn’t make any. He is not one dimensional and he is a genius.
Moreira understands pace better than Whyte in a race. Moreira will go forward if it is slow or go back if it is fast. He will take off in a race and he is not scared to lead or come back from last. He doesn’t make a mistake. He is a class act. Whyte has a plan before the race and sticks to it.
A serious racing injury in 2006 at ShaTin had doctors saying it would take 6 months to come back from, yet you were back in 3 months. Was that the old Shane Dye determination to prove them wrong?
Yes, and I was totally wrong in what I did. I should never have come back that early as my body was not ready and I worked so hard to get back. The doctors initially wanted me off for 12 months.
I swam every day I did Pilates everyday and I also had a personal trainer. I had to go and learn to breathe again because when I did my lungs I only had about 35% capacity. It actually took me two and a half years to recover from that fall. I kept breaking ribs, torn cartilage and I couldn’t come right. But I kept riding with all these problems.
So I left Hong Kong and went back to Australia to try and fix my problems but I still couldn’t come right there. I had two falls and my ribs and cartilage were gone. I couldn’t breath. My doctor there told me that the only way I was going to come right was to go somewhere really hot and swim every day.
On that advice I went to Mauritius and lived on the beach and you wouldn’t believe it that within 6 weeks to 2 months my whole body changed and I could feel it. And I haven’t had any troubles since.
What needs to be done to bring Australian racing back to the good old days? Can we learn anything from the Hong Kong set up?
Yes we can, send the officials from Sydney to Hong Kong to see how it is done. They have no idea how to run racing and that is what I learnt in Hong Kong. They don’t listen to the right people unfortunately and there are to many egos.
When I arrived in Hong Kong I had a meeting with the officials and they said to me that if there is a problem come and see us and we will fix it. In Hong Kong when I was there you were part of a family and they want you to be happy and they fix everything. When you tell them something they listen.
Unfortunately in Sydney they never listen to you and they don’t want to know. They think you have no idea and it is so bad the way you are treated and they don’t realise that the officials. When I was riding in Sydney some tracks were stuffed and we had a meeting with them and their excuse was that they had no money. When I was there riding track work at Randwick it was so dangerous to ride track work they didn’t have many lights.
I only really realised that when I was in New Zealand one day to buy a horse and I was at Matamata and they had 50 lights at a country track. It was like being lit up in the day. I went to Hong Kong and I couldn’t believe it. It was just like the middle of the day there also.
When I went back to Sydney in 2008 to ride track work at Randwick it was a disgrace. I complained to the stewards about it and the excuse was that there was no money. It’s a load of rubbish. They don’t care about safety. Don’t get me started on it. I could give you 100 examples of things.
Vests are the most dangerous things in racing and they haven’t done anything about it. That’s why so many people are dying from race falls and that is why there are so many broken vertebras and bad injuries now and they will not get rid of them because they know that they are going to be sued by everyone. It’s as simple as that.
I tried to do everything I could to get vests stopped and I explained what would happen when the vest comes up and hits your head and pushes you into the ground. It is too hard on your back. I have had a lot of falls and have ridden horses since I was a baby. I have fallen without vests and I have fallen with vests and there is no comparison. Without a vest you can roll. But now with a vest you can’t roll like that. It restricts you.
Vests are no good. And would they listen to me? No. They said to me prove it. No one can prove it. The thing is they can’t prove that vests don’t cause the back injuries. They know that they do. They didn’t even want to know about it. It’s an absolute joke and shocking. I had a meeting with the people at NSW Racing about the vests and they disagreed.
They told me they had a study had been done from Adelaide University. They said a lady there had watched hours of horse racing falls and had come to the conclusion that vests didn’t cause any damage. That’s what you’ve got to put up with in Sydney racing. It’s a joke.
You have ridden for many great trainers like Gai Waterhouse, Guy Walter, Graeme Rogerson, Clarry Conners and John Size. Have you ever considered the training game?
Gee you forgot a few! Tommy Smith, Bart Cummings, Lee Freedman, Bobby Thomsen, you could keep going.
No, I have had quite a few offers to train and set me up in different parts of the world however it is something I have never wanted to do. It is a very hard game and its 24 hours and at my stage of my life I didn’t actually want to do it. It is very difficult and I have the upmost respect for trainers because it is not easy.
Max Presnell once said “Shane is like French champagne and oysters he is an acquired taste”. What was your relationship like with the media during your career?
I had a great relationship with the media. They could always come to me for a story as my phone was on 24 hours a day, weather it was good or bad news or positive or negative.
Any advice for young people looking to make their way in the jockeys ranks?
Definitely, it is not just about riding. You have to be a package. You have to speak well and be a good communicator and dress well. I would tell them you can’t be out drinking as you need to be disciplined and dedicated.
Riding is then the next stage. You need to be very patient in races and it will come to them. However the biggest thing is dressing well, speaking well and communicating.
The best horse you have seen?
Kingston Town, Silent Witness and now maybe Able Friend. Aussies don’t realise how good Silent Witness was. If you put him and Black Caviar in a race there is no way I would say Black Caviar would beat him. I have never seen a sprinter like him. He was a superstar. Although in Hong Kong figures suggest that Sacred Kingdom was better but I don’t come to that conclusion.
What do you believe has been your best ride?
The two that stand out to me that I always remember are a horse called Air Seattle in the Queensland Derby. He was a really hard horse to ride and he drew very wide and could pull very hard. I missed the start on purpose and got straight across three back from the fence and saved ground and got out and just won. It is a ride I will never forget.
The other one was Nothin Lieca Dane in the Melbourne Cup. I think he had about 46.5-47kg and I drew barrier 16 and I ended up three back on the fence and never went around one horse and ended up running second. That was a perfect ride.
The Top 3 jockeys you have ridden against?
There have been so many it is hard to name three. I have ridden all over the world and ridden against all the best. I always rated Gary Stevens as a freak. I have been in races with him where at the 800 metre mark his horse was gone but for some reason he kept rolling with it and would win wide out and he would sit four wide on it on a grass track. He had a very special gift.
Blokes like Christophe Soumillon he is a superstar and is outstanding. In Australia I always admired Mick Dittman and Jimmy Cassidy. I thought they were outstanding jockeys. But to be honest there have been so many. Ryan Moore he’s another one. Frankie Dettori he had the whole package, he had the charisma and the personality, he had the riding ability.
Who was the hardest jockey to beat in the steward’s room?
None, I was always one step ahead of them.
Who was the best owner to win a Group One for?
Look I was very lucky to ride for the people I rode for as they were all fantastic. When I left Australian racing it was a very hard decision because I was riding for Assertive Lad and she was owned by Yvonne Smith from the Gold Coast and she looked after me very well financially and was a lovely lady.
Shogun Lodge’s owners looked after me very well financially and then you had Tie the Knot and you wouldn’t get a nicer owner than Sandy and the Taits and they looked after me very well too. I was very fortunate in Australian racing as I was always looked after by the owners. And I rode for a lot of good people.
Even although I wasn’t Lloyd Williams’ stable jockey because I was in Sydney I did ride a couple of Group One winners for him. I had the utmost respect for Lloyd. Every Melbourne Carnival for two months I would eat with him nearly every night. His knowledge on racing; there is none more.
Colin Tidy is another one. Even although the officials didn’t like our relationship and tried to stop me from being associated with him he was like a second father to me. We were very close. I rode his horses and rode Group One’s for him .We had a passion both for sport. We loved our sport and I introduced him to NFL. He didn’t know anything about NFL until he met me now he watches every game on a Monday and Tuesday morning. We used to bet on it and everything. Just because he was a bookmaker didn’t mean I was doing anything untoward we had the same passions. We loved sports. He loved everything I loved.
It was funny there was a royal commission in racing and I was questioned over Colin Tidy and they said do you know how many phone calls you have made to him this month. I said I don’t keep count but it would have to be at least one hundred. They said you have made 134 calls between you two. They asked my why most of the calls were on a Sunday and Monday morning. I said to them that’s easy, that’s sports day and Gridiron day in America! They looked at me and didn’t know what to do. I always stay at Colin’s house when I am in Australia
Have you ever considered an autobiography?
I had a chance about four years ago to write one and I didn’t go ahead with it as I didn’t think it was the right stage. Horse racing autobiographies don’t sell well and that’s because they are too nice and don’t tell the truth.
If I write one it would be the truth and I wouldn’t leave much out and there would be a lot of people upset I would think. At this stage of my life I am not ready because I want to include the next stage in the book then I may.
What are you doing with yourself these days?
I am overseas working and trying to build back up to where I want to be in life and I am working very hard at what I am doing. I am working hard on Hong Kong racing 24 hours a day.
Shane thank you very much for your time it has certainly been very interesting and informative!
Story courtesy Michael McGill @MickSportsNews