Champion jockey Damien Oliver thought he was reading his own eulogy when he awoke on Wednesday morning to read the reports of his impending retirement.
Oliver announced he will retire from race riding at the conclusion of the Perth Carnival in December after a celebrated 36-year career in the saddle.
The champion jockey is one of eight to have ridden the ‘big four’ of Australian racing, taking three Melbourne Cups, four Caulfield Cups, two Cox Plates and a Golden Slipper.
Add to that 10 Melbourne Jockeys’ Premierships, 11 Scobie Breasley Medals for riding excellence, 128 Group 1 wins along with a record 84 wins during the Melbourne Cup Carnival and it is why Oliver has the monicker of ‘The Goat’ (Greatest Of All Time), something he feels is more about a slow horse, but as a compliment he is happy to accept it.
“When I woke up this morning, I thought I woke up to my own eulogy with all the media that was going on,” Oliver said.
“It’s been quite amazing.”
Oliver thought about retirement last season, but a winter break and holiday renewed his enthusiasm.
He had thought about slipping out quietly, but thought he owed the industry more.
“After the break I felt refreshed, and I thought I had another good spring carnival in me at least,” Oliver said.
“I had thoughts of whether to go out quietly, which is a little bit more my style, and I would have been happy to do that, but I feel the industry has been so good to me that it would have been a bit selfish, and I owed it a bit more than that.
“I feel I can give it one last crack and still feel there is a little bit more left in the tank to have one last crack at a spring and then finish up in Perth.
“That sounded right to me where it all started 35 or 36 years ago.”
Oliver came to Melbourne as a 16-year-old, following his brother Jason to the Flemington stables of Lee Freedman and his brothers who were also beginning their odyssey.
He thought he would stay only a few months which would help his riding upon a return to Perth.
“Coming to the Freedman stable who were taking off at the same time, there were some great opportunities,” Oliver said.
“Being a competitive person already, they instilled a harder edge to me that served me well throughout my career, and I couldn’t imagine having the success and the career that I’ve had.”
Oliver believes he is still riding as well as ever and will miss the competition.
But he said the seven-day-a-week grind of racing was beginning to take a toll.
“I’m not up every morning like I was when I was younger,” he said.
“And those challenges get a bit harder as you get older, but I still love the thrill and competition of game day or race day for us.
“But with the amount of racing day and night and mornings, it is relentless, and it probably gets a little bit harder to put in that workload that is required to keep you at the top.
“I still feel like I’ve got the passion and the expertise to do it on race day, but there is a whole grind with that as well and as you get older that gets bit harder to keep that up.
“I will miss the banter in the jockeys’ room.
“It’s a unique sport where you are followed around by an ambulance and then you go and sit in a room and take the piss out of each other all day.
“I’ll miss that a lot, but I’m sure I’ll be a regular at the races and will keep in touch with a lot of them.
“I still feel like I’m riding as well as ever, I still love the competition and I’m still feeling good.
“I’m as keen as ever to go out on a winning note.
“It will be strange, and I can understand how sportsmen do struggle to make that transition, but I’m really looking forward to challenge that lays ahead.”
The Victoria Racing Club moved on Wednesday to rename the Group 2 Linlithgow Stakes to The Damien Oliver (1400m) on Victoria Derby Day in recognition of his achievements.
– RAS NewsWire