The Pre-Race Nerves That Fire Up ‘The Gun’

By Ray Hickson

Ever wondered what goes on under the cool, calm exterior of a jockey as they parade before a big race?

For Brenton Avdulla there’s a fair bit of nervous energy being burnt off and for him – like most elite athletes – that’s a good thing.

The 26-year-old has the job of riding one of the sentimental favourites – and leading chances – in ‘The Grey Flash’ Chautauqua in Saturday’s $10m The TAB Everest (1200m) so he knows there’s plenty at stake.

“I’m sure there will be a few nerves in the mounting yard but it will all come out on the track,’’ Avdulla said.

“After all, you’re going out for a $10 million race.

“But I always think the butterflies in your stomach are good. It means that it means something to you.

“You have to have your poker face on but, don’t worry, when the big races are on you still get those nerves in your guts.

“It’s more excitement rather than nerves going into Saturday, I’m excited to be there and I hope the horse runs well.’’

Avdulla is one of those ‘heart on his sleeve’ characters, he tells it like it is and if he messes up he’s the first to admit it.

It’s refreshing and that straight shooter approach, coupled with a growing reputation as one of the best riders in Sydney, has lent itself to Avdulla being known in racing as ‘The Gun’.

When regular Sydney rider Tommy Berry was unavailable to ride Chautauqua in The Everest the Hawkes stable selected Avdulla for the task of riding him to Everest glory.

With two rides under his belt on the champion sprinter Avdulla feels he knows the horse pretty well.

“He’s a bit different to ride,’’ Avdulla said.

“He flops out of the gate and you have to get him into rhythm. He doesn’t have a dynamite turn of foot or anything but once he builds into that rhythm he can sustain his top speed for longer than other horses.

“It’s not ideal but I have confidence in the horse and confidence in his form. That’s just how he is. Now I’ve had two rides on him it makes it easier during the run.’’

The first of those two runs was in The Shorts, over 1100m at Randwick on September 16 and his flashing finish had everyone on edge that he was still the horse to beat.

That fear probably went back a notch when he wasn’t quite as dynamic, but still outstanding by the average horse’s standard, running seventh in the Premiere Stakes (1200m) two weeks later.

“I’ve been happy with both his runs, he’s found two very fast tracks with tail winds and it has been hard to make ground,’’ Avdulla said.

“He’s probably looking for a bit of the cut out of the ground and a race where they go brutal on the speed.

“All his best wins have been when he’s been well back in fast run races with a bit of cut out.

“Saturday is his grand final, it’s what he has been set for, so I’m sure Team Hawkes has him all fired up and ready to go.’’

The three-time TJ Smith Stakes winner ran a last 600m of 32.66, bettered only by runner-up English in the Premiere Stakes.

The Punter’s Intel data from both his runs this spring show Chautauqua has been breaking the clock with countless sub-11 second 200m splits but, as Avdulla said, dry conditions and the slow starts have made winning virtually impossible. Even for Chautauqua.

“He’s obviously running times, there are 12 horses going there cherry ripe for the race and a few in good form so he has to improve,’’ he said.

“I have the confidence that he can improve and put in a peak performance. We just need to execute the plan right and get the conditions to suit.’’