Great Northern win special to Cooksley
On the eve of Saturday's Irvines Great Northern Steeplechase, jockey Grant Cooksley has revealed that he regards his win in the 1978 edition of the race as the most memorable of his illustrious career.
Speaking after his 66th Group One win aboard Close Up in last Saturday's Tarzino Trophy at Hastings, Cooksley recalled fondly his win aboard Marton steeplechaser Ballycastle in the Ellerslie four-mile race.
|Grant Cooksley Photo: Trish Dunell Photography|
"My father and grandfather were jumps jockeys and I just followed them into it. I've won a few big races around the world, but the one I remember most and get the most satisfaction from is the Great Northern Steeples as an 18-year-old," he said.
Cooksley’s father Colin was an accomplished jumps jockey and trainer and had his son schooling jumpers from the age of 14, while his mother’s father Rex Deale was another accomplished horseman, training winners of several big races including the Epsom Handicap in Sydney.
“My first ride over fences was my fourth ride in a race as a 15-year-old,” Cooksley said.
“Ballycastle was a bloody good horse. He was an open handicapper on the flat and he won the Waikato Steeples and McGregor Grant Steeples as well as his Northern win.
“He used to race in a shadow roll to make him stand off his fences.”
Cooksley is recognised as one of New Zealand's most accomplished jockeys, winning more than 2600 races, 1000 in New Zealand, among them four Easter Handicaps, three wins in both the Auckland Cup and New Zealand Derby, two Wellington Cups, as well as success in the Railway Handicap, 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas, Waikato Sprint and the Avondale Cup.
His international success has come in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau and New Caledonia, claiming two Sydney Cups, three Metropolitans, two Flight Stakes and two AJC Sires' Produce Stakes, as well as a Doncaster.
He also finished second on The Phantom in the Melbourne Cup and runner-up on Octagonal and Clan O’Sullivan in the Golden Slipper. In Singapore he was the regular rider of the champion galloper Bocelli.
Last Saturday, Cooksley matched one of champion English jockey Lester Piggott’s achievements, winning a Group One race at the age of 57.
Cooksley became the oldest rider to win a Group One race in New Zealand aboard Close Up.
Piggott, who won a Group One race at Ellerslie in 1980, recorded his final Group One win in September 1993, in the Moyglare Stakes in Ireland, when two months short of his 58th birthday.
Cooksley, who will turn 58 in December, was having just his third ride for the season when he won the Tarzino. It was his first Group One win since his Wellington Cup on Envoy in January 2006.
Noel Harris had previously been the oldest rider to win a Group One race in New Zealand, when winning the 2010 Telegraph Handicap on Vonusti, aged 55. – NZ Racing Desk