The Cork jump jockey, Johnny Allen, who has based himself in Australia for the past few years, achieved another riding milestone on the flat when winning the $600,000 Group One Ubet South Australian Derby over 2,500 metres at Morphettville in Adelaide on 13th May.
Allen has had much success both over jumps and on the flat in Australia, especially riding for Darren Weir, a trainer based in Victoria. The pair won last year’s running of South Australia’s premier flat race with Howard Be Thy Name, and the pair again joined forces for this year’s renewal.
Morphettville’s biggest race of the year began almost 10 minutes later than post-time as Waging War and Docker Pav played up in the stalls, and had to be eventually withdrawn, while Grand Chancellor was taken out of the stalls twice before being passed fit to run as he was a cause of anxiety for stalls’ handlers.
The Johnny Allen-ridden Volatile Mix was drawn in stall 11 for the Group 1 contest, and the jockey eased his mount to the back of the field early on. The Corkman kept his horse second last and two wide with a circuit to race. By the 7f marker (1,400m) the pair were still one from last but were only about 8 lengths off the leader. Volatile Mix moved closer at the 4f (800m) pole, and was just behind the leaders with 3 furlongs to race.
When they hit the home straight a gap opened 300m from the finishing line for the gelded son of Pentire. Allen, who first went to Australia to compete in the Australia v Ireland jump jockeys series in 2004, pushed his mount in chase of the leaders, and they led the race with just 150m remaining. The lightly-raced three-year-old stayed on well to win comfortably, and achieve his third success in nine racecourse starts.
Ruthven, who had taken over the lead on turning into the home straight, and lead at the 200m mark, finished just over half a length back in second as the Darren Weir-trained colt outstayed him.
Starting price favourite Odeon, who seemed a likely winner in the straight, and who Allen followed through before overpowering him, seemed to run out of steam near the finish, and gained third place, a further 1¼ lengths behind.
The winner, Volatile Mix, ran the 2,500m distance in a time of 2:37.09, the fastest South Australian Derby time since Big Pat clocked 2:36.35 in 2001.
In praising the 32 year-old Ballarat-based Corkman for not taking the horse wide on the home turn, Weir, who was winning his 8th Group 1 of the season, said: “He’s a great rider. I keep telling people he’s just a good jockey who likes going over the jumps and he showed that again today. He was three wide tracking them into the race and Johnny’s decision to wait and go between horses rather than around them was the winning move.’’
Allen praised trainer Weir, who was gaining his seventh elite level success in South Australia, for having his horse expertly prepared for the big day: “He was trained to the minute. I wasn’t as confident as last year but he really just outstayed them in the end.”
In 2011 Johnny Allen had answered a ‘Racing Post’ advertisement looking for jumps jockeys to head to Australia. Due to not getting enough opportunities in Ireland and a struggling Irish economy at the time, he decided to settle in Australia where he believed he would have better jumping opportunities.
Shortly after his arrival Down Under, Allen, who also won the Group 2 Magic Millions Roses for three-year-old fillies at Doomben on 20th May, struck up a partnership with prolific winner Gotta Take Care over jumps. The combination won seven races together including three Brendan Drechsler Hurdles at Bendigo in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Australian Hurdle, the Galleywood Hurdle at Warrnambool and the Yalumba Classic Hurdle at Oakbank.
Allen is one of only a few jockeys who combines jumps racing with the flat and rides regularly on the country and provincial tracks.
Last season Johnny Allen had a strike rate of one winner every 6 rides, a 15.7% win ratio, with a 42.2% place percentage. His most successful stable partnerships in the past year have been with trainers Darren Weir and Dane Smith. Allen maintains he cannot believe how well things have worked out for him since his move to Australia: “It’s been unbelievable really. I suppose I arrived at Darren’s at the right time and I’m happy to be along for the ride.”
South Australian Derby winner 2017, Volatile Mix, may next head to Adelaide for a crack at the $600,000 Queensland Derby which will be run at Eagle Farm on June 10th. Another big day may be in store for Johnny Allen.
By Breandán Ó hUallacháintth