BENDIGO has been like a magnet for hard-working jockey John Robertson.
By his own admission, the 39-year-old has lobbed in the central Victorian 'four or five times' times throughout his more than 20-year career in the saddle, only to sometimes move on seemingly as quickly as he arrived due to a combination of misfortune, bad timing and circumstances.
But the persistent and passionate Robertson is back in town, so to speak, head down and bum up, diligently going about the latest phase of his riding career.
The well-travelled jockey has forged a nice partnership with Bendigo trainer Pat Cannon, himself busily carving out a new chapter in his own racing career.
Together they are enjoying some good success with Cannon's small team of horses, headed by the four-year-old with a bit of a cult following Shultzy.
The gelding endured a purple patch of sorts between December and early April, winning three and being placed twice in seven starts, and coming within inches of notching up his maiden city win at Sandown on April 6 when second behind the Dan O'Sullivan-trained Uniquely in a benchmark 70.
Robertson was aboard Shultzy in all but one of seven of those starts, the exception being the first at Yarra Valley on December 17 when he finished second with Liam Riordan in the saddle.
The same combination of Cannon-Robertson added a win with another four-year-old gelding Punter at Ballarat Synthetic on May 29.
It continued a resurgence for Robertson, who in his previous most recent stint in Bendigo in the early months of the COVID pandemic, opted for a break from riding to take up a job with Widden Stud.
"A jockey in my situation, if you haven't got a big support base around you, or a big stable where you are the number one and you are only getting dribs and drabs, you've got to make the decision," he said.
"You've got to go where you are going to get the rides.
"So I've had a few moves.
"But COVID spooked me - I thought we'd be shut down and I took a 'security' job that paid good money, working with young horses, which I thoroughly love.
"But we are kicking on strong now. It's funny how it all works.
"Pat Cannon himself has made a few moves, but somewhere along the way we've joined together. I wouldn't be in Bendigo if it wasn't for him to be honest.
"Brent (Stanley) has put me on a few winners, but if it wasn't for Pat, I wouldn't have moved back here just recently."
Widely lauded for his work ethic, Robertson's perseverance and determination are paying off, particularly in the minds of Bendigo trainers, who have started to use him more frequently.
An efficient last week of May included three wins in the space of four rides for local trainers Kym Hann on Pal's Reward, Brent Stanley (Eitilt) and Cannon (Punter).
To some extent, Robertson's career has come full circle in Bendigo.
Originally apprenticed to David Hall as a 16-year-old, he quickly found his way to Robbie Laing's stable at Sutton Grange, where he feels he made the most of some 'good opportunities'.
It was for Laing, who Robertson rode his first winner. The memory has stuck with him.
"I carried on like a pork chop after the line. I look back at it now and it was pretty embarrassing," he said.
"There was a story behind it though.
"My second race ride I just got nabbed by Noel Callow on one at Moe and it took me about another 50 rides to get my first winner.
"So it was an emotional day; dad was proud and everyone was proud, and it cost me $500 because I saluted before the post.
"Dad paid the fine."
It was not long afterward that opportunity again came knocking - and just as quickly, fate reared its ugly head.
"When Robbie Laing left Sutton Grange and went back to Cranbourne, I got a call from (Bendigo trainer) Shane Fliedner to possibly give him a go," Robertson said.
"I think I had five or six quick winners for him and I kicked on; rode a treble at St Arnaud.
"Things were looking up in a good way, but I had nasty fall at Mildura, which rattled my confidence.
"I was out for seven months, but even when I came back, I didn't have the confidence.
"That was the first time in my career I was really close to giving it away.
"I was about 19 or 20 back then, so I've had a few breaks, but this is the best I've ever felt."
Robertson's reputation for hard work is part badge of honour and part by design.
"If I'm not riding a lot of work, I've got to counteract my light duties by going to the gym and putting in the hours," he said.
"Not just to get the body right, but to get the mind ticking over.
"If you haven't got much on in the day, it's not really healthy for me, so I like to keep busy."
His pursuit of a win will take Robertson to Donald on Saturday to ride All Too Tough for Stanley and Song Storm for fellow Bendigonian Daryn Drust.
He has two rides at Bendigo on Sunday - last start winner Pal's Reward for Hann and Saint Ay for Steven Lake.
Edging towards 100-career winners, he is yet to notch his maiden city winner.
If and when it comes, he unapologetically hopes it's aboard Shultzy.
"He has probably given me the most excitement in my career, he's just a lovely ride," he said.
"He's a bit slow out of the barriers, but he gradually picks the bridle up. Wherever you ask him to go he'll go.
"At Sandown, I reckon I gave him a 10 out of 10 ride, but he just got nabbed.
"It was a bit heart-breaking but it's around the corner. I can feel it.
"He's a city winner for sure. I say that with confidence. He keeps improving.
"Throughout my whole career, I've come to Bendigo a good four or five times - you've got to go where the opportunities are.
"Pat Cannon, he's got me in the door now and we've got a great association."
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