By Hans Ebert
Call them part of the Old School of horse racing, but, like in music, and every art and sport, there’s no substitute for experience, and still so much that can be learned from them- racing heroes and legends like Michael Kinane, Brent Thomson, Gary Stevens, Mike Smith, Felix Coetzee, Douglas Whyte, and Darren Gauci.
The Gauch rode at his last race meeting on the weekend at Caulfield. Even if he hadn’t won the second race on the aptly named Goodwill, The Gauch would have bowed out a winner, because of everything he’s achieved, and how he’s conducted himself, on and off the field.
Despite their incredible CVs, these are professionals who wish to help those coming up the ranks, and unselfishly share with them their knowledge. We’re lucky to have many of them still involved in the sport. Of course, there are always one or two upstarts who start to believe their own publicity and quickly stumble and fall from grace. We have seen this happen time and time again, and we’re seeing it happen right now with a certain popular apprentice who was the toast of the town last season. This season, the work ethic is apparently gone, the head has ballooned, how what was achieved and by working with whom has been forgotten, and suspensions have overtaken the winners.
After thirty five years of race riding at the most highest of levels, for Darren Gauci, it’s the start of the next logical step of his career- to impart his experience and knowledge with the next generation of young Australian riders. And here’s what’s key about him, Whyte, Coetzee, Brent Thomson and others in this exclusive club: They never stop learning. They’re not know-it-alls. They’re not selfish. They’re humble. They’re complete horsemen. They’ve done it all and seen it all.
Many executives in racing clubs could learn much from them- about leadership, about not playing politics, hell, about actually riding in a race, and how to stay grounded and humble. Why certain jockeys shouldn’t be racing executives, or, and it might be a stretch, even run a racing club is baffling. Wait: It’s because this is the way the “organisation chart” has always been, and no one has thought of framing it any other way.
The last time I met up with the Gauch was a few months ago in Melbourne. We’re hardly longtime friends, but we met for a drink and a casual chat. What struck me most was his humility and, how, like The Babe and The Cat aka Felix Coetzee, he holds Joao Moreira in such awe. He’s a fan. Listening to the Gauch describe Moreira’s riding style, his tactical nous, and his determination to win showed someone who has achieved so much of his own, but still respects talent when he sees it- just like we must always respect those who have years of experience and success under their belts.
Horse racing needs mentors for young riding talent as well as mentors for its executives, both junior and senior. When these people are generous and giving with their time, only the most foolish and naive will not grasp this opportunity with both hands to become better at their jobs. MBA’s and other titles behind names have their time and place. Often, they are meaningless compared to graduating from the Academy Of Street Smarts.
As the brilliant race caller Greg Miles said after his last race ride on Saturday at Caulfield, “Thanks for the memories, Gauch! You’re a legend!” And how great it is going to be for all those who are going to learn from this legend- one of the greatest judges of pace- ever- and a true gentleman of horse racing.