Ryan Elliot’s decision to focus on major racedays as a way to mitigate challenges with his weight is paying off in a huge way.
In the traditional measure of riders in New Zealand, the jockeys’ premiership, Elliot is 17th equal with 28 victories after racing at Trentham on March 18.
But in all other measures, Elliot’s season is a stellar one. Victory aboard Pennyweka in the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) brought the earnings of his mounts for the season to $2,937,925 – below only Michael McNab, Opie Bosson, and Craig Grylls – all of whom have had at least 100 more rides than him this season.
His number of black type wins is 10, below only Bosson (15) and McNab (13), while he is clearly the leading jockey this season in Group One victories with six – two each aboard Sharp ‘N’ Smart and Levante, and one each with Legarto and Pennyweka.
Elliot isn’t a natural lightweight, and has decided that he will focus on weekends and major racedays rather than try to keep at a low weight throughout the season.
“The weight factor is pretty tough on me if I have to do it the whole season,” he said.
“But I’ve worked out this season I can pick and choose during the week and then really get down to the weights on Saturdays to get those major wins.”
As a result, Elliot usually rides at 56.5kg at midweek racedays, or 56kg for a particularly good midweek ride, but then gets his weight down to 55kg for weekends and major days, opening up more opportunities for major races.
He can get lower for a particularly good horse, as he did to ride Sharp ‘N’ Smart at 53.5kg in the Gr.1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) and 54kg in the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m), though that requires some extra effort.
“My goal each season is to get 10 stakes winners and I’m happy with that,” he said.
“I love riding other winners, but once I get my goal of 10 stakes winners I’m pretty chuffed, and if I go over that I’m stoked.”
Elliot, who also rode 10 stakes winners in 2021-22, and nine in the season before that, said his riding has also improved with greater success and confidence.
“My mindset has improved and when I’m making sharp decisions, I’ve been making the right ones, and it’s starting to show in the races.”
The Oaks ride was a good example of this: after being caught on the rail, Elliot managed to get one-off the fence making the final turn and manoeuvred into the clear just in time with 300m to run, giving Pennyweka the chance to reel her rivals in.
“Those split-second decisions can be the difference between a great ride and a bad ride, but I’m lucky that I had the horse beneath me to do what I could do to get out,” Elliot said.
The Oaks was just Elliot’s second ride aboard Pennyweka. The first had been 17 days beforehand in the Gr.2 Lowland Stakes (2100m), when she came home strongly for third.
Elliot said he picked up the ride while he was attending the New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale in January.
“I was walking around at Karaka and I ran into Jim Wallace, and we got to talking about some Ready to Run-type horses,” he said.
“We ended up talking about Pennyweka, and he said that the ride was available, and it happened from there.”
Pennyweka has won both of her races on rain-affected ground, but Elliot said she was not just a wet tracker, as she showed when third in the Lowland on good footing.
“I think over a bit of ground she doesn’t mind a firm track,” Elliot said. “Over the shorter distances she needs the ground to slow the others down more to be competitive, but once over ground it doesn’t matter.”
Elliot isn’t planning to stop his raid on major races, with his next target the Gr.2 Ultimate Mazda Japan Trophy (1600m) on Saturday aboard the Mark Walker-trained Perfect Scenario, who tuned up for the race with a third placing in an open 1000m catchweight trial at Taupo on Tuesday.
“He had a trial today (Tuesday) for a nice blowout ahead of the weekend,” Elliot said. “He’s been there all the way through and hasn’t been quite good enough to win one of those Group 1 races, but in a race like the Japan Trophy he should go close.”