Racing: How I met Patrick Valenzuela

By Philip Tyndall

On Saturday as I was walking through the car-park at Flemington, I came across a bloke standing under a gum tree looking like he wasn’t sure where to go. He was well dressed in an open-necked shirt, and he  had a black travel bag with a “Melbourne” airline  tag on it.  I wondered, ” Could it be …?” then decided to ask him.

“Are you Patrick?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Are you riding the American horse Cannonball in the Lightning Stakes today?

“Yes,” he said again.

I offered to show him the way to the main gate, as I was going that way, and as we walked along we talked about Flemington, Let’s Elope (which he told me he rode when she raced in the USA), Phar Lap, and the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.

As we approached the main gate he said, “Do you think they’ll let me in without a tie?”

I looked at him and smiled, “Yes, I think so!”

Then he introduced me to a bloke called Declan, the traveling foreman for Cannonball, who was standing outside the gates and carrying the red-and-white jockey silks on a coat hanger. I said goodbye, wished him good luck, and saw them heading off into the course, looking a little lost.

Strangely, it reminded me of seeing small-time country trainers or jockeys trying to find their way into the Bendigo racecourse – certainly not the connections of the first USA-trained racehorse ever to race in Australia.

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PS: What surprised me was that there was no one from the VRC there to look after an international jockey of his fame. Patrick Valenzuela is a man who has won some of the greatest races in the USA, including the Kentucky Derby , the Preakness, and the Breeders Cup. He rode the great Arazi and Sunday Silence. He has ridden over 4000 winners.

PPS: A final note to the above, highlighting the apparent lack of courtesy and respect shown by the VRC to this visiting US jockey.

Before the Group 1 race, Valenzuela stood alone in the mounting yard at Flemington. Queensland jockey Shane Scriven chatted to him briefly and shook his hand , but otherwise he was left alone. Around him the connections of all the other runners in the much-hyped Lightning Stakes gathered and chatted. Valenzuela looked around, then straight ahead, out into the mounting yard where his mount Cannonball was parading nervously, and being held by both his strapper and travelling foreman.  At  the bell to “mount up”, Patrick Valenzuela was the first jockey out of the gates to walk towards his horse.

It was sad to see the lack of support and enthusiasm shown by Victorian racing officials on what was an historic moment in Australian racing history. Such a contrast to the Spring when overseas connections of lesser achievement are feted beyond belief.

NB: Cannonball finished in the second half of the field after being bumped badly early in the race. He was doing his best work towards the end of the race. His race record shows he is a much better  horse at 1200 metres.


  1. Martin Reeves says

    But just watch the VRC fall over themselves to accommodate the Queen at this year’s Spring Carnvial.

  2. Peter Flynn says


    I love these tales. Well done for taking the plunge and asking.

    On Sport927 that morning, Declan was effusive in his praise re his welcome, advice etc.

    Agree that Cannonball is a 6 furlonger.

  3. An amazing story.

    I believe he has won the Breeders cup 7 times!

    But maybe for the first time in a while he didn’t have to put

    up with the hype ie. of a Frankie Dettori.

    Still no excuse, a champion of ones sport is still a champion, even though

    I believe he has had drug related allegations levelled at him, (and even suspensions).

    Still he is still one of the best international “jocks” to grace our shores

    and definately deserved more!

  4. Do you remember Willie Shoemaker’s grand Australian (and world)tour?

  5. Peter Flynn says


    Did he ride at Moe?

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