Jason Collett with partner Clare Cunningham and dog Vinny.  Photo: Sam Ruttyn

Across The Ditch - Jason Collett

Patrick Bartley
24 November 2021

The life of New Zealand born Jason Collett has changed considerably since he arrived in Sydney in late 2010 hopefully to eke out a living at a trade that his racing family is synonymous with. 

A decade later and Collett has made considerable inroads into the highly competitive and fast-moving racing jurisdiction of Sydney. 

A dual group one winner, Collett is known for his strength and tactical skills that have won over many of the hardest trainers in the harbour city. 

At 18, Collett first came to Australia but the impact of being so young in a busy, unforgiving, international port, saw the youngster overwhelmed by homesickness. 

“Look, it was just the case of me being too young and away from home but it still didn’t dampen my will to succeed as a jockey in Australia. 

“So, two years later I was back in Sydney and this time with only two months of my apprenticeship to go,” he said. 

With only months of his apprenticeship to run Collett landed with a fellow New Zealander, Chris Waller, the man who has largely rewritten the record book of horse training in the world. 

“I was much more equipped when I came the second time, then the winners came, probably helped by some very quick success. Actually, I rode Winx in two of her very early wins. She was an honest, nice filly but no one ever thought then that she would go on to be the world beater that she proved to be,” he said. 

Collett began dating Peter Moody’s Sydney stable foreperson, Clare Cunningham, and when the Sydney stable of the trainer of Black Caviar closed, Cunningham became a trainer in her own right preparing 25 horses at Warwick Farm. 

Before that Cunningham had helped Jason Collett’s father, Richard, when they established a tiny stable at Rosehill prior to him returning to New Zealand. 

“Dad only wanted to try out a few numbers and Clare looked after them but after a while the team was reduced and Clare started her own stable and I’ve got to say, with great success. 

“I can ride a little bit under 54 kilos with warning, but I like to stay at 54 which is what you need to ride at each Saturday. It’s a busy life but if you work hard and establish your contacts you can succeed at it,” he said. 

Collett, who was an apprentice at the same time that champion jockey James McDonald who is now arguably the finest jockey in Australia, has always been prepared to travel to ride in trials or track gallops. 

To say the Collett family are a horse-riding group would be a vast understatement. His older sister, Natasha, was a jockey but is now the mother of three children and married to Kiwi jockey Andrew Calder. 

His younger sister, Alysha, 27, has also been a successful jockey fulfilling a recent contract in Singapore and now based in Sydney after leaving Singapore with partner and Australian broadcaster, Luke Marlow. 

“It’s been jockeys through and through when it comes to my family. Even my cousin, Samantha, has continued her riding career in Brisbane recently,” he said. 

However, Collett and Cunningham have had to make some fairly major changes to their training/ riding lives. 

The pair became the proud parents of a young baby Scarlett Collett in September. 

The baby has seen Cunningham, especially, changing her lifestyle from training 25 racehorses down to preparing just one or two, devoting her attention to Scarlett’s needs in the first years of her life. 

“Life’s changed, sure, Clare’s made the sacrifice of dropping down in numbers and devoting her life to the small important things that go with having a baby.  You ask are we excited – we are absolutely rapt, and any sacrifices are worth it,” he said. 

After looking at Jason’s last 10 years and the highs of winning group races, events worth lots of prize money, and riding for the very best there is, for Jason and Clare there is nothing like the gift of life. 

However, even at the age of three months, one suspects the name S. Collett will be around the riding ranks before we know it.   

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