Jockey hated the red circle

Apprentice jockey’s drive made him Leading Jockey        September 2018

Ian Albuino topped Western Australia’s jockey premiership three times but I first became acquainted with him when he was an apprentice jockey. We were on a flight to Bunbury races.

He was apprenticed to Eric Parnham and had not been riding very long. On the flight, he asked: “Can I have a look at your race book, mate?”

We were sitting face-to-face on a five-seater plane, one of a few which used to ferry jockeys, punters and sometimes owners from Guildford airport to Bunbury. A small bus would collect travellers at Bunbury aerodrome and transfer us to the track. The pilots were George Gilbert and Jan de Beer plus an occasional new boy or girl if there happened to be more than 10 wanting to go by air.

My race book was my property and contained the fruits of hours of homework – the form – from the previous night. I didn’t want to give up my knowledge freely and saw little benefit in an apprentice jockey reading the information.

Ian didn’t want my information, he was probably just checking what time his last ride was and how soon he would be finishing work. At the time, he had not gained the exalted status of leading jockey and was regarded by me as an also-ran of the WA jockeys’ list.

These ‘inferior’ riders were marked in my book with a red circle: a warning to me that, unless their mounts were starting at odds massively over my calculated price, these horses were to be avoided in that particular race.

For me, it didn’t hold any appeal explaining to the bloke sitting opposite me for an hour why he was in the red circle.

Reluctantly I handed the book over to Albuino and tried to look absorbed in the newspaper I was reading but, inevitably, the question came:

“Why’s my name in a red circle?”

I had mentally prepared for this and said it was because it indicated riders who were out of form.

“But I rode a winner on Saturday?” came the reply.

“Oh, yes but you have to have been riding winners consistently. Just one winner doesn’t necessarily spark a run of hot form.”

It was the best I could do and the young man gave a slight shake of the head and went on perusing the book.

A fortnight later I was at Pinjarra races covering the meeting for The West Australian. The on-course press telephone was located in a hutch between the jockeys’ room and the mounting yard and it was here that Albuino found me just after hanging up from reading through the results of the previous two races to a copy taker.

“I’ve got an idea to get me out of that red circle,” he said. “I’ve got a horse in tomorrow having its first start. Velvet Pixie. I own it and it’ll win.”

Jockeys aren’t allowed to own horses and apprentice jockeys aren’t usually mature enough to think owning one is a good idea. Yet here was a bloke giving me a free kick and I knew it was genuine because I had sound reasoning to believe his ego was being dented and he wanted it smoothed out.

That night, before doing the form for Bunbury (WA summer racing alternated Pinjarra-Bunbury or the reverse almost every Wednesday-Thursday in that era) I looked up the ownership of Velvet Pixie.  It was in race one and one of the part-owners was Mr A.J. Albuino, who turned out to be Ian’s brother Tony, and it was trained by Eric Parnham, Ian’s boss.

Now my ego was being tested.

Having been taught to do the form by Ron Wilson, I based my whole strategy on weights and measures as per the book Australian Horse Racing and Punters’ Guide by Rem Plante.

Though the grandson of a jockey, I had soon learned from my time at the racecourse that jockeys are usually poor judges of form and Ron had reiterated this. (Incidentally, my grandfather Ned was considered a shrewd judge. His son and my father Jim always said to me: “The difference between Father and the others was he put his own in.” That is, if Ned thought a horse would win, he would give the trainer his money to bet, a rarity in racing where jockeys, from my experience, always wanted a sling for their information but expected the horse’s owner or person they were tipping to take all the risk by outlaying money with the bookmakers).

Back to my conundrum. Was I to blindly bet on Albuino’s information or stick solid with what the form revealed after I had done it?

Fortunately, I detected no standout selection in the first race and was keeping an eye on Velvet Pixie’s price when the bookmakers went up in the first. Soon money began to come for the debutant. I joined in and it won. Albuino rode it and he proved a good judge because the horse went on to win far better quality races. It was out of its class in that Bunbury maiden.

Fast forward, a few years (circa 1980) and I was working as racing manager for Yosse Goldberg, who owned more than 200 horses – stallions, broodmares, foals, yearlings and racehorses. Though my role was merely clerical, I decided I could learn more about racing if I helped the stable out at morning track work. Leading a couple of horses off the float for trainer Bill Fell, I walked past Albuino about to take one on to the track. He was leading jockey by then.

“Hey, I must be well and truly out of that red circle by now,” he said. My reply was glowing. “Yes, and what’s more you even get two blue ticks to show me what a jet you are.”

Fast forward again another few years and Albuino and I found ourselves face-to-face again on the plane going to Bunbury. He showed no interest in my race book but an apprentice jockey, Jimmy Taylor, did.

“Can I have a look at your race book?” asked Jim in his familiar, slightly lisped tone.

Reluctantly I handed the young man my form book and looked across the aisle at Albuino. By this time, having lost interest in reading his newspaper, he was appearing to snooze beneath its outstretched pages.

“Why’s my name in a red circle?” asked Jimmy.

Before I could even raise the necessary excuse, a voice came from beneath the newspaper:

“It means you’re a c- -t!” said the leading rider to the apprentice.

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