DAVID O'PREY has spent more than three decades in racing, first as a jockey before turning his hand to training. O'Prey caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week. BRENT GODDE: I heard during the week you're an Irishman. Is that true? DAVID O'PREY: I was born in Ireland and my parents relocated over here where I was 10. Growing up I lived at Avondale Heights on the Maribyrnong River. My parents still live there. BG: As a kid, did you always have ambitions of becoming a jockey? DO: Not really but our neighbour at Avondale Heights happened to be a bookmaker Peter Stone who worked for Alan Tripp. Blokes like Greg Hall, Dale Short and John Dow were also in the neighbourhood. I used to ride ponies along the river and John Dow used to watch me a bit. John invited me down to meet Bob Cerchi who was a trainer. I started working at his stables before and after school. BG: Did you like school? DO: Not really, I went to St Bernard's College and missed a fair bit of school because Bob would drop me off when we finished at the stables which could be 10 or 11am. The Christian Brothers didn't like that much. I actually wagged school for two weeks straight so I could look after a horse called Pelican Point who was over from New Zealand to run in the Melbourne Cup. My parents ended up finding out and weren't too impressed at the time. BG: What are the memories of your first ride and how old were you? DO: I left Cerchi's stables and went to work for Bart Cummings who I was apprenticed to. I was only 40kg at the time. I was really close with Leon Corstens and I used to ride Hyperno in track work. I remember my first ride was at Kyneton and I had just turned 16. I lobbed in a perfect spot but I couldn't hold the horse and we both hit the deck which scared the crap out of me and was fairly embarrassing. I was lucky to escape with a bit of concussion. IN OTHER NEWS BG: Obviously not the ideal start to your career. Did it take long for you to redeem yourself? DO: My second ride was at Murtoa which was a fair hike and it wasn't the flashiest track. I had a couple of rides and went OK but copped a suspension. BG: Not long after you moved to Wodonga? DO: Steve Sharman was based in Wodonga but was in demand from a lot of the city trainers including Hayes and Cummings. He was also riding for Ollie Cox and he wouldn't let Steve ride in the city, unless he got a replacement jockey. So we virtually did a swap and Steve went to work for Bart and I moved to Wodonga to work for Ollie and have been here since. BG: So you completed most of your apprenticeship with Ollie? DO: I probably did three years with Ollie before he handed his licence in and Brian took over. Not long after Brian and Steve Sharman copped a 12-month disqualification. So I did nine months with Richard Freyer. It wasn't my favourite place but Richard's horses were always rock hard fit. Ollie started training again and I went back to work for him. Ollie won the North-East trainers title and I won the jockeys title. BG: That's a fair effort to win both the leading apprentice and leading jockey title while so young? DO: Times have changed. Back then there was only one or two meetings at the most locally. The riding fee was $30 and now it is around $220. BG: Were you a natural in the saddle or was it a skill that you had to work hard on? DO: I was a bit of a natural and when I was riding those ponies at Avondale it was bareback which helps improve your balance. I had some good teachers early in Mark Broadford, Michael Clarke and Harry White who I used to always ask questions and watch religiously. BG: How would you describe yourself as a jockey? DO: I was talented enough around the bush but the kids these days are miles ahead of where we were as apprentices because of the apprentice jockey programs and the education they receive. We basically had to fend for ourselves back then. I always found it easier to ride the closer you got to the city because you are up against the better riders and everything runs more smoothly. BG: What do you consider some of your highlights in the saddle? DO: Winning the senior jockey title as an apprentice is right up there. It's always a thrill to win a local cup and I won a Towong Cup and Benalla Town Plate. Just beating the better riders like Steven King and Len Maund was also satisfying. I started off at the same time as Darren Gauci and John Didham who went on to be among the best jockeys of that era. BG: Did you have many city rides and where did you ride most? DO: I wanted to go down and spend time with John Meagher as an apprentice over the winter when apprentices were in demand. But Ollie wouldn't release me and I missed out on the opportunity. It is one thing I do regret, not testing myself down in Melbourne. BG: Who do you consider the best horse you have ridden? DO: I used to ride a lot of Bart's stable stars in track work including Hyperno and Malvito. Malvito was among the favourites for the Derby that year and we were working the horse twice a day in the lead-up because he had missed some work. Anyhow the media wanted to take a photo of the horse for their Derby coverage and we left the saddle on for way too long and the horse ended up with a girth gall. Bart wasn't impressed and we spent the next two days putting hot and cold towels on the horse so he would be right to race. BG: Do you remember how many winners you ended up riding? DO: I rode fairly consistently until I was about 22 and then I really started to struggle with my weight. I ended up riding 230 winners and the only jockeys to ride more during that time were Gauci and Didham. BG: Did you receive any memorable slings as a jockey? DO: Ron Finemore used to race a few horses with Hal Hoysted including Ceasers Right and Ginger Moss and I copped some really, really big slings after they won. Slings aren't really heard of as much today. I also got a big sling after Celestial Law won the Towong Cup for trainer Peter Maher. It poured rain on the day and once the rain came it was a certainty. The main danger came up from Cranbourne and I gave it a bit of a squeeze at the notorious half-mile corner and then took off on Celestial Law who won fairly easily. They protested but there wasn't many cameras back then so we got the money. The races were called off after the cup because it was that wet. Neil Carr was involved in the horse and I copped a massive sling from him as well. BG: It was a constant battle to keep your weight in check? DO: Back then you were only riding once a week or twice at the most. So I would let myself go a bit between meetings. Near the end of my career I would get up to 60kg during the week and then have to lose 6kg to ride on a Friday or Saturday. I remember I went to Adelaide with Wayne Nichols once and we left on the Wednesday and was 57kg and had to ride on the Saturday at 52kg. I spent a fair bit of time in the sauna and playing squash with the sweat gear on to lose the weight. I lost the weight and thankfully the horse won. BG: What did you eat when you were trying to lose weight? DO: It's a funny story but we went to a restaurant over in Adelaide and Wayne has ordered a big steak and I had a bowl of rice with a bit of tomato juice squeezed over it for a bit of flavour. There were a couple of old ducks in the restaurant and mistakenly thought Wayne and I were father and son. They gave Wayne a serve for only giving me a bowl of rice which pretty funny at the time. BG: What did you love most about being a jockey? DO: I just love the competitiveness and the thrill of booting home a winner. BG: What did you hate most about being a jockey? DO: Just the constant grind of losing weight in the lead-up to meetings. Looking back now, I could of went about things a bit differently. BG: How old were you when you retired from being a jockey and what led to your decision? DO: I was 24 and basically called it quits because of my weight. BG: What did you do for an income after retiring? DO: Initially I rode track work. Greg Hall's manager got in contact with me because Greg was going off the rails a bit and was stable rider for Angus Armanasco at the time. So I was riding track work for the stable and getting paid by Armanasco as well as Hall. But then Greg went off the rails, so that gig went pear shaped and I ended up working for Mark Riley and Collin Litttle. I also had a stint with Brendan McCarthy in Seymour and we had a fair bit of success. BG: Could you still have a few beers when you were a jockey? DO: I remember once I gave up the grog for three months and was probably the fittest I had ever been. Anyhow I was riding at Moonee Valley the day after the AFL grand final and was riding a horse called Heavenly Mover. I rode it a treat but D. Oliver got me right on the line. I couldn't believe it and it was the last time I was off the grog. BG: What would you regard as one of your better pranks as a jockey? DO: Boxing Day races were always at Wodonga and back in those days the scales used to be outside. Being Christmas and not wanting to miss out on a decent feed, I decided to play around with the scales and tilt them a bit in the jockeys favour. I had it about right but Jake Elkington who was a legendary dog trainer at the time used to walk his dogs past the scales and weigh them all the time. So he weighed his dogs and knew straight away something wasn't right. So I had to go back and fix the scales and ended up having a fairly light Christmas lunch. BG: How did you first get involved in training? DO: Mark Riley took a team of horses to Brisbane and I stayed back and helped look after his stables. Then Harry Richards who was involved in the meat works locally, set up a stable at Tangambalanga, so I came home and was working for him. It was a great gig, he paid all the bills, I got a wage and he was a big punter and we had a lot of success early. We bought a few tried horses off Mike Willesee and all bar one, won races. Harry was also very generous on the sling. It was a good gig while it lasted but after that I went out training on my own. BG: How long did it take you to train your first winner? DO: I was fortunate in that one of my first horses that I trained was Baby Bomber who was a multiple city winner and won the Albury Gold Cup. I originally started training at Albury because Mick Wolk who owned Baby Bomber also owned the stables where Brett Cavanough was and now Mitch Beer. That was around 1997 and 1998. My first ever Melbourne runner as a trainer, Regal Rourke, won at Caulfield by five lengths. BG: What's the better gig, full-time jockey or full-time trainer? DO: There is obviously more risks being a jockey and you don't begrudge the money they get paid. But jockeys jump off after a race and it is the trainer who has to do all the hard work in between races. So it's certainly a lot harder being a trainer and a lot of us ride our own track work as well. BG: What do you consider some of your highlights as a trainer? DO: Anytime you get a horse good enough to win in the city is right up there. Winning an Albury Cup with Baby Bomber and a Wodonga Cup with Elizabethan was also special. BG: Winning the Albury Cup with Baby Bomber was a big result for the stable? DO: It was. The horse was flying at the time and ran an Australasian record and broke two minutes. It is still a record to the best of my knowledge. BG: Peter Hutchison used to ride the horse regularly? DO: As I said Mick Wolk owned the horse and at the time Baby Bomber won at Wangaratta, then bolted in at Echuca so we entered him in a restricted race at Sandown. He also won at Sandown and Mick had tears rolling down his cheeks because the horse we beat was trained by Lee Freedman and owned by Lloyd Williams. MIck was over the moon because he had always dreamt of owning a city winner. Sensing an opportunity, 'Hutchy' asked me to see if Mick would give him a sling for riding the horse. Mick had just sold the quarry for $7 million, so I said to him he should sling 'Hutch'y a bit extra. 'Wolky' just looked at 'Hutchy' and myself and said "I'd love to give you a sling but I'm struggling too you know." BG: Do you like having a punt? DO: I'm not a big punter by any means because I know there are so many variables. I also get cranky when I get it wrong and can't afford to be a big punter to be honest. BG: Obviously racing is full of high and lows, has there been times when you thought there must be an easier way to make a quid? DO: I've been through some tough times as a trainer and have had to find outside work to supplement my income. I've done a bit of plastering, worked in a Valvoline depot with Simon Bone and also with Paul Twycross at Coventry Fasteners. None of it really appealed to me but I love training but it certainly can be a tough game. BG: What do you love most about being a trainer? DO: Probably just seeing the enjoyment on owners faces after their horse wins. Nothing beats a good road trip on the way home after you have a win in the city and I've had a few memorable ones with the Richardson brothers after Miss Gundowring won in Melbourne. BG: You had a big win on the footy trip with the Wodonga Raiders one year? DO: I went on the footy trip and we were all going to the races and I had a runner called Quest Winner. There was 44 of us on the trip and we all had a big night the previous night but 42 of us made it to the races the next day. We all backed Quest Winner and it lobbed at 10/1. There was an almighty roar when it won and I remember the race caller saying "I'm not sure what's going on down there but it looks like some sports team and they are going berserk." The win paid for everyones trip and it was certainly took a while to recover. BG: When you have got some downtime, you don't mind getting to the local football and watching the Wodonga Raiders? DO: I used to play a bit of golf when I was a jockey and Russell Nicholson was the barman at the golf club. One Wednesday after golf the Raiders were having their players auction and I walked up to the footy club and ended up buying Simon Bone and his brother Justin. From that time on I have been involved with the club. It's a good outlet from training and if I can get that Saturday afternoon off to go to the footy, that's all I need. I've got some real close mates at the club now. BG: I'm guessing some of the former Raiders are in horses with you? DO: A few of the Raider boys including Bernard Toohey, Jake Kowski, Simon Bone, Justin Bone and Nic Conway were in Systematic who won at Flemington. Anyhow, I booked Brendan Ward to ride it but Jake, better known as the fastest fullback ever to play for Burrumbuttock, was adamant I should have got a city jockey instead. So he didn't come with us to Flemington where I thought she was a huge chance. She won by four lengths. BG: What do you hate most about being a trainer? DO: It's seven days a week and you don't get much down time. I also dread having to call an owner if their horse goes amiss because they are not cheap and most people only get into horses for a hobby. But it can be an expensive hobby if your horse gets injured. BG: What have been some of the biggest changes along the way? DO: I feel the tracks are first class now, certainly in Victoria. There are also a lot more female jockeys because they are lighter and girls like Jamie Kah, Linda Meech and Kathy O'Hara are as good as any going around. BG: Do uou still ride most of your horses in track work? DO: I used to but I'm booked in for a hip replacement, so the sooner I get it done, the sooner I can get back on them. BG: The recent Wodonga Cup was the biggest on record. The club has done a terrific job to turn its marquee meeting around? DO: Previously I do think we were looked down on a second rate club but it's certainly not the case now. Most people I talked to rated this year's cup as the best yet and were amazed by the experience.