Birdsville bound Dan Ballard desperate to win famous Cup

QUEENSLAND’S reigning Champion Country Jockey Dan Ballard is keen to add to his tally of winners when he returns to the two-day Birdsville carnival this weekend.

The Simpson Desert town with a population of just 115 will welcome nearly 7000 visitors as $200,000 in prizemoney is distributed at the 134th year of the iconic event.

Ballard will leave his Mount Isa base early on Friday morning for the seven-hour trip. His parents Keith and Denise depart a day earlier with a float-load of horses in their quest to secure some of the riches on offer.

Racing has long been a family affair for the Ballards. He is a third-generation jockey, having had two grand­fathers who rode.

“We always had horses in the backyard,” he said.

“Mum always said she didn’t bring much to the marriage except a dog and a pony.

“Mum’s old pony was still around when I was starting to ride. So I always had that old pony out the back when I was starting to kick off.”

Denise had a team of 20 last season but has scaled back to “about a dozen”, with Dan sharing the stable rides with his dad, who is one of the state’s most famous bush jockeys.

“Dad is 63, but he’s still going all right. He finished in the top 10 this year and he’s very competitive,” Dan said.

“He’s very generous. I’m a bit heavier and he gives up his heavy rides to ride my light ones.

“Sometimes that works in his favour, but obviously more often than not it doesn’t.

“I rode 58kg this year and that’s good going for me. I could get down to 57kg if I ­really needed to, but most Saturdays are 59kg.”

Ballard has lived his entire life in ‘The Isa,’ bar for a three-year stint on the Gold Coast, where he did his ­apprenticeship with Alan Bailey.

“I got really home sick. I consider myself very much a country boy and it was an adjustment that I never really made to living on the Gold Coast,” the 30-year-old said.

“I’d like to think I made a pretty fair fist of it, but as I got into the twilight of my ­apprenticeship it was a double-edged sword. I was riding pretty well and getting some nice rides, but I was also very keen to get home.

“I am glad I stuck it out and finished my apprenticeship there, but I wasn’t a senior jockey a week and I was home.”

He has ridden 11 winners at Birdsville from only a handful of visits but would dearly love to win the Cup, a race his dad won on Equitant in 2009.

“I think Birdsville is something that every racing lover should see once,” Ballard said.

“From a jockey’s perspective, it’s a real melting pot. It’s very tough racing. You’re running into a lot you haven’t ridden against.

“It’s a terrific atmosphere. They get a bumper crowd there and it’s dead-set packed. Where they come from, I’ve got no idea.”

 

Dan Ballard (right) accepts his Champion Country Jockey award from Mike Kelly. Picture: Racing Queensland

Story courtesy Nathan Exelby Brisbane Courier Mail

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