A TALE OF TWO JOCKEYS
By TONY WHITE
A FRESH-FACED 18-year-old kid from Brisbane and a 56-year-old New Zealand riding legend hold the key to a local win in today's $125,000 Black Toyota Ramornie Handicap (1200m) in Grafton.
Ric McMahon, still an apprentice, will partner race favourite Starlactic, aka 'Nipper', with the evergreen Bruce Compton taking the reins aboard the 'Tucabia Tornado', Umatrick.
It's an intriguing match-up ? youth versus a wealth of experience.
In boxing terms, a fledgling amateur against a wily professional.
Their backgrounds are worlds apart, but the common bond is riding two thoroughbreds who will battle for supremacy before what is expected to be a record Ramornie Day crowd.
McMahon wasn't even born when Compton, raised in Hastings on New Zealand's North Island, rode the first of more than 2000 career winners aboard Fair Linda at Avondale in 1966.
McMahon, brought up just behind the Doomben racetrack, won his first race at his second ride aboard Pardon Sir for Liam Birchley at Ipswich in February, 2004.
Compton, whose family had a furniture store in Hastings, became involved in racing following a conversation while delivering papers.
"I was doing agriculture at school and used to deliver papers from the local dairy," Compton said.
"I was delivering papers to this owner-trainer and he asked what I was going to do with my life.
"I said I had no idea and he suggested, because I was small, why don't I have a go at riding. I decided to give it a go and did six months' probation, liked it and carried on."
McMahon's father, Shane, used to work at the nearby Doomben stables and McMahon would walk horses in the afternoon after finishing school.
"I wanted to be a footy player, but I didn't grow, so from about 14 on I decided I wanted to be a jockey," McMahon said.
McMahon has a New Zealand connection, apprenticed to Brian 'Balmerino' Smith, the great New Zealand trainer now domiciled in Brisbane.
Compton was apprenticed to George Cameron, the Kiwi version of legendary tutor of apprentices, Theo Green.
Compton learned his trade quickly. Against tough opposition he had outridden his claim half-way through his apprenticeship. By his fourth year of riding he was selected to represent New Zealand in an international jockey series.
"I had to hold my own, be sharp, real quick competing against senior riders to be competitive and survive," he said.
After 40 years riding in more than 35,000 races, Compton has survived 36 race falls.
He's suffered a broken fibula, collarbone, cracked heel, bumps and abrasions, but proudly states he's never suffered concussion.
"I've lived through every fall. I can remember every hoof that went over me," Compton said.
He's ridden many champions, like Red Anchor and Super Impose, and top horses like Royal Troubador, Honest Promise, Castletown, Just Now and My Good Lord. He has won around 30 Group One races.
Married to wife Marina and living on his 100-acre Sherwood Estate Vineyard at Kempsey, with two children from his previous marriage ? Brent 22 and Paul 24 ? Compton puts his longevity down to not having to extensively diet and waste.
"I've never been heavier than 52 kilos. If I want to ride at 50 I just give up the beer," he said.
"I eat anything I want. The other day I had Kentucky Fried when I got to the track because I missed breakfast. The other jocks hate me. I'm light and strong, very fit and still love my racing."
He describes Umatrick, a horse he first rode at Inverell two years ago, as 'a lovely, kind horse. You can do what you want with him. He's bullet proof. Felicity (Firth) has got him flying."
McMahon's parents, Shane and Tina, and two brothers, Sam, 14 and Jye, 16, are right behind the lad's blossoming career. He has ridden 183 winners and rode in his first Group One race for John Hawkes when second aboard Octapussy in the Doomben Cup this winter.
He describes Starlactic as 'the best horse I've ever ridden'.
"He just does it all himself. He puts himself there and feels great under you. When he lets down you can feel him take off. He gets down low, pins his ears back and flies. It's a great feeling.
"I can't wait for the race. I'm re- ally excited."