From a homesick teenager who almost turned his back on Melbourne racing, 25-year-old Damian Lane is now on the verge of taking all before him in the showpiece spring carnival.
On the eve of riding Japanese horse Mer De Glace in Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup at Flemington, Lane is one race away from achieving an unprecedented feat.
The jockey won the Golden Slipper in Sydney in March and more recently the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate in Melbourne.
No jockey has won Melbourne’s three biggest races in the one year and only seven have completed the ‘grand slam’ which includes the Slipper, over the course of their careers.
Lane comes from Western Australia and after starting his career apprenticed to his father Michael, he moved to Victoria in 2011 to be based with trainers Mathew Ellerton and Simon Zahra at Flemington .
But Lane admits he came close to returning home only months later through a combination of home sickness and a feeling he “wasn’t going any good”.
He credits a phone call from Mornington trainer Pat Carey, along with support from Ellerton who he lived with for several months, for convincing him to stick it out in Victoria.
“Yeah, I was all but going home,” Lane recalled.
“I rang my father and I told Matty Ellerton I had had enough and I didn’t think I was cut out for it.
“I was still a 17-year-old.
“Matty suggested I stay. But I guess it was probably a phone call from Pat Carey that did the trick. I was driving to Donald races, and I was all done and he rang me. I was riding a lot for him at the time and he gave me some sound advice.
“A lot of people suggested to stay, including Matty, but that was probably the one phone call.”
Eight years later and firmly established as one of Australia’s star jockeys, Lane is glad he decided to stay in Melbourne.
“Amazing how close I was to a completely different career,” he said.
Lane won his first Group One race in 2014 and has added another 18.
This year he has also enjoyed a successful two-month stint in Japan which has led to his feature spring wins in Melbourne on two Japanese horses.
Mer De Glace won the Caulfield Cup while Lane claimed the Cox Plate on star Japanese mare Lys Gracieux.
He is aware of the significance of a Melbourne Cup win.
“But what will be will be,” he says.
“It’s not going to change how I ride or how the horse runs.
“I couldn’t have imagined to have such a good year.
“Just to compete in the ‘grand slams’ is a great thrill. To be able to have won three of them, it’s been an amazing year.”
After the dominant Caulfield Cup win, the Hisashi Shimizu-trained Mer De Glace is among the leading Melbourne Cup contenders.
“I’m really confident in the horse I’m riding,” Lane said.
“We’ve drawn well. It would be nice if the rain slowed down. He hasn’t performed on a soft track before but we can’t control that.
“The 3200 metres is obviously a big question mark and we won’t know for sure until after the race. But I’m confident he will run it out.”