Jockey Paul Alderman, who rode Floating High to victory in the Ramornie Handicap in 1974, looks at one of his scrapbooks of old newspaper clippings.
Jockey Paul Alderman, who rode Floating High to victory in the Ramornie Handicap in 1974, looks at one of his scrapbooks of old newspaper clippings. Tim Jefferies

Reflections of a life spent in the saddle

As one of a select number of local jockeys to have won the Ramornie Handicap, Paul Alderman is humble about his achievements.

But an area of the house adorned with memorabilia shows there is a lot of pride, not just in what he has achieved but that of the whole family.

Next to various photos and clippings from more than 20 years of riding sit trophies won by all the family through their own sporting endeavours.

Alderman recalls his win on Floating High in the Ramornie fondly, without talking up what was a quite remarkable win.

The build-up during the July Carnival was a lot bigger in 1974, with some trainers bringing their horses to Grafton in the months beforehand to get them acclimatised.

The trainer of Floating High was Les Horton, who had won the Ramornie in 1962 with Tamberan, and the team was confident the horse would put in a good show if given the chance.

"Yeah, he was in good form, we took him to Brisbane a few times and he won there,” Alderman said.

"He didn't have real good legs and probably didn't go as far as he could have but a lovely horse to ride.”

Of course, Floating High might not have even raced had there not been six scratchings, paving the way for the 'emergency' horse to start.

But the last-minute opportunity brought its own issues as the onus was then on Alderman to lose enough weight before the race.

At the time, The Daily Examiner reported Alderman going on a "crash starvation diet”, something which makes the man chuckle as he looks back at clippings from the time.

"Yeah, I lost about four and a half kilos from the Monday,” he said.

"As soon as we knew he got a run it was on to get down and I still ended up riding him a bit over.”

The need to lose weight before a race was not uncommon for Alderman, who admits he was not too keen on changing his eating habits in order to stay under for the big races.

His wife, Dianne Alderman, was quick to emphasise this, and points out he was fond of a last-minute fast coupled with the tried and true method of sweating it out.

"He wouldn't do anything different during the week and then sit in the sauna all day Friday,” she said.

"He liked his baked potatoes.”

At that, Alderman quipped: "Yeah if I had of lost more he might have won a bit easier.”

An early newspaper clipping of an article about the teenage Alderman riding at the Melbourne Cup.
An early newspaper clipping of an article about the teenage Alderman riding at the Melbourne Cup.

Despite the rushed lead-in, he knew soon after Floating High left the gate the horse was looking good, especially given its form in the weeks preceding.

"He was just a bit fractious in the barriers - he held them up a bit. He was causing a bit of trouble,” he said.

"But once he began and settled, he settled in a good spot and all we had to do was get a bit of luck.

"And he did run a race record, and probably a fair dinkum record because it was a close finish because some of them you don't know.”

Alderman was typically humble about the significance of the win, but did suggest there was more to it than just being a local winning his hometown race.

"It was good, especially since I had run second in it the year before.”

The year 1973 was actually the second time the jockey had run second in the Ramornie, the first being earlier in his career when aged just 17, in arguably the biggest year of his career.

"In one year I ran second in the Cup, the South Grafton Cup and the Ramornie.” he said.

"That was back in '67, I ran second in the two cups and the Ramornie.”

Alderman also rode in the Melbourne Cup that year, something which was no doubt special but downplayed somewhat as "just another race”, albeit with a key difference.

Paul Alderman
Paul Alderman

"It was a long way round!”

"And it came with a lot more prestige I suppose.”

The biggest achievement for Alderman in 1967 was winning the Canterbury Guineas on Honeyland, a win he says was probably his biggest in his career.

That career had in fact started only a few years prior, when he travelled to Sydney to become an apprentice jockey at the behest of his father, himself a trainer.

"I came from the pony club in Grafton,” he said.

"My old man had a few good horses over the years and he wanted me to be a jockey so that's how I ended up in the city.

"I went down when I was about 14.”

But despite his achievements as a young jockey and the opportunities that come with racing in the city stables, it wasn't long before Alderman was back in the country.

"I lasted about four years and had enough of the city and I came back to Grafton and then ended up in Thargomindah, on the other side of Cunnamulla,” he said.

It was in Central Queensland that he met Dianne, who was born and bred around stables in Charleville and whose father owned racehorses.

And a strange turn of events led him to move to Charleville and ride for her father.

"I was in Roma at the time and got a message - don't worry about coming back because the pub's gone,” he said.

"The pub got burned down in Thargo so I had nothing to go back to and the guy I was riding for owned the pub.”

Despite being out of the jockey's saddle since the 1980s, Paul has not lost his love for the country tracks and their hospitality, the casual punter more likely to be found at one halfway to Bourke than a meet anywhere near the city.

Dianne said while they had been to many regional races together, nowadays she only went sometimes as it was often a chance for the men to get together.

"When he was riding I went to all the meetings,” she said.

"The outback races usually entail fishing also, so it's more a getaway for the men.”

The thought of a race with 150,000 people watching doesn't sit well with Paul, Diane vouching for that.

"While he was at a race meeting at Noorama (south of Cunnamulla), I was at the Kentucky Derby,” she recalls.

"You'd have to get on a jockey's shoulder to see that race”, Paul said, as thoughts turned to his next race meet destination, the remote towns of Garah and Mungindi

"I like (country races), you don't have to rush. You can just take your time.” - OT



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