Mick Dee Thriving Across the Tasman
Mick Dee has come a long way since he and older brother Luke dressed in silks and saddled up opposing sides of the couch to emulate the jockeys they watched on tv.
These days while Luke has etched out a career in showjumping, Mick is making his name in racing circles having already lined up in the Melbourne Cup, has three Group 1 victories to his name and bagged an impressive $15.5m in stakes money for very appreciative owners.
But don’t expect this quietly-spoken lad to be shouting about his successes from the rooftops.
The Dees are well known in showjumping circles – Luke has ridden for New Zealand at Nations Cup level in the United States and all three siblings – Luke, Mick and Jamie – did well to pony Grand Prix level.
Mick represented New Zealand at the FEI Children’s International Jumping Competition in Colombia in 2009 finishing ninth overall. If not for a mind blank from the jockey, he would probably have been on the podium. That said it remains a real highlight in his showjumping career.
His first pony was Fashion and he often inherited ponies from Luke. His best – by far – and a real favourite on the showjumping circuit was Cheblinkers, who helped him lead home Luke to win him a grand prix and got him to Colombia.
He’s grown up around horses. Dad Richard was a trainer many years ago and that was when the kids would ride every winner home from the safety of the living room. “I wanted to be a jockey when he was training but then when he gave that away I wanted to be a farmer . . . I still want to be a farmer!”
At 15 though he gave the showjumping away in favour of racing. He 15 turned his hand to track riding thanks to fellow jumpers Shaun Fannin and Sue Thompson. He was still boarding at Napier Boys’ High School but would ride track work for Sue and then Hawke’s Bay trainer Guy Lowry.
His started his apprenticeship with Kevin Myers and had his first win aboard Bamboo at New Plymouth for Adrian Bull. Two years into that apprenticeship, he moved across the Tasman.
“The opportunity came up and it would mean more money and a bigger profile, so I took it. It is tough out here but the racing is good.”
As an apprentice he placed third overall in an invitational jockey challenge in Macau where he also won a race. Since then his form has come thick and fast, with a total of 380 wins from both sides of the Tasman – and counting. There have been a number of highlights – like his three group 1 victories. His (Group 1) win aboard three-year-old filly Hiyaam in the Vinery Stud Stakes was a huge thrill for him because it was for former boss Mick Price.
His success allowed him to turn his lifelong dream into a reality, and at 20 he went shares in a farm in Waipukurau with his parents Jo and Richard. “Riding has been a good way to get the farm. Me and mum and dad have 850 acres . . . it’s my paradise. I love to go home and like to go out and help whenever I am there. It is meant to be a holiday but it works out I do more work at home than when I am here!”
These days Mick is based mostly at Caufield. “I ride mainly in Victoria but have ridden in every state except for the Northern Territory,” says the 22-year-old. He’s been there nearly four years. “The lifestyle is not too bad but nothing like New Zealand!”
He’s a Kiwi boy through and through – despite his Aussie twang – and talks to his family most days. “Dad is always giving me tips on my riding,” he says. “A lot about what I could have should have done and about tidying up my riding style . . . there is always room for improvement.”
He shot to international attention again as the rider of the very popular Gingernuts who was injured as he headed to the start gates for the Group 1 Emirates Stakes at Flemington. Many said Mick’s super speedy action in jumping off the horse as soon as he felt something was amiss saved the horse’s life. As it was the life-threatening injury was able to be treated and Gingernuts is now happily retired in New Zealand.
Mick doesn’t need to look far for inspiration. Fellow jockey Hugh Bowman is one he looks up to, among others, and he would dearly love another shot at the Melbourne Cup. “It’s certainly a race that inspires you, that’s for sure, but I am happy with any Group 1 win.”
Mick wants to keep on getting better and hopes that one day he will have the chance to race in Hong Kong. “The best jockeys in the world have contracts there so it is tough to get in,” he says.
But his parents Jo and Richard know their boy most definitely has talent. “He’s always been a good natural rider,” says Richard. “He has done extremely well and especially riding in Australia. Those are as strong a race day arenas as anywhere in the world.”
He’s got his own special memories of Mick’s riding successes – like when he won the Group 1 Kennedy Mile aboard great mates Chris and Susanna Grace’s Shillelagh for the uber successful Chris Waller on Derby Day at Flemington in 2017.
“I always watch his races and give him helpful advice, just as I do for Luke with his showjumping!”
Jo says they are super proud of Mick. “We often watch him race on TV but try and get to Melbourne twice a year maybe,” she says. “I used to get nervous but I am getting better! It is just the unknown . . . anything could happen.”
But one thing is for sure – if this quiet achiever continues on the track he’s on now, he will be able to tick off his wish list and spend a whole lot more time on his farm.
Mick by numbers:
• 385 wins across New Zealand and Australia
• $15.6 million in stakes money
• Best season 2017/2018 80 wins and 143 placings from 685 starts
• 3 Group 1 wins – 2017/2018 season