Harris on crest of wave

Cambridge jockey Troy Harris returning to scale after Gr.1 success aboard Melody Belle at Te Rapa yesterday.

A pair of important victories on the weekend has Cambridge jockey Troy Harris keen for more as he continues his resurgence from the battle he has had with his weight over the last few years.

Forced to ride over fences for a period after struggling with his weight, Harris has made a concerted effort to continue his flat-riding career and reaped the benefit at Te Rapa yesterday when piloting Sponge Bob and Melody Belle to victory in the Gr.2 Warren Storm Lifebrokers Waikato Guineas (2000m) and Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1200m) respectively.

Harris is feeling justifiably satisfied with his efforts, but also eager to continue on the upward path he is currently on.

“Actually, I’m a little tired as it was a pretty long day, although I was in bed fairly early last night,” he said. “It was a dream result and thankfully I could repay the faith that people placed in me to get the job done for them.

“It’s been a tough time with my weight issues and trainers and owners lose faith in you if you’re turning up to ride their horses overweight all the time.

“I hope now that they will have that faith in me to put me on as I feel good about where I am and I’m working hard to maintain that level.

“I’ve changed my diet and do a lot of running along with what I do on the track during the week. I ran about 10kms on Saturday before the races and that has really helped me.”

Harris was quick to thank his manager Dean Williams, who played a major role in securing the mount on Sponge Bob after Michael Coleman fell ill on Friday, as well as having Harris available to ride after he incurred a suspension when riding at Hastings on January 30.

Harris had been booked to ride Melody Belle and was only able to take the mount after being granted a stay of proceedings on his suspension by the Judicial committee.

“Dean did a fantastic job with my appeal on the suspension so I really have to say a big thanks to him,” Harris said.

“He also got me on Sponge Bob, so I guess it’s a double thank you. He rang me on Friday evening about 6:30pm and said he could get me on Sponge Bob in the Guineas as Michael was ill and I was really keen to take the ride.”

Harris was taken by the effort of Sponge Bob, who was having just his fourth start when tackling the Guineas after breaking his maiden status at Te Rapa three weeks earlier.

“During the race he gave me a good feel although he only does what he has to most of the time,” he said.

“He was travelling well then when I asked him to improve he came into it nicely and when I gave him a couple with the stick, he really put in.

“On that performance you would have to rate him a good chance in the Derby, but I guess it is up to the owners if they want to pay the late entry fee.

“If they do, I would be keen to ride him.”

Sponge Bob wasn’t amongst the original nominations for the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) with his connections having until February 19 to pay a $30,000 late entry fee to secure a place in the feature at Ellerslie on March 2.

While confident he was on a winner during the running of the Waikato Guineas, Harris admits he didn’t have the same feelings on Melody Belle later in the day.

The victory was the first for Harris at Group One level since successful for the same trainer-owner combination in Te Akau Racing and Fortuna Syndications in the 2008 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) on Tell A Tale.

“Te Akau have been really good to me so it was nice to repay the faith they had in putting me on the mare,” Harris said. “I had been over to Matamata and galloped her in the build-up to the race and she was flying.

“I knew she had been disappointing when unplaced at Trentham at her last start, but I thought if she was back to her best, she was going to be hard to beat.

“That wasn’t the feeling I was getting halfway through, though, as we were in a tough spot and not really going anywhere.

“It was only when I got on to the back of Ardrossan with about 250m to run that she started to pick up, but when she saw the gap at the 100m she just flew.

“That last bit was super and I do think she is looking for a little further now.”

Now that Harris has again tasted success at the highest level, he is determined to make the most of any opportunities that come his way.

“I feel great going to the races now after previous years where I had to waste to drop a few kilos,” he said. “You just feel terrible and you don’t want to be there, but it’s good now.”

NZ Racing Desk