Dolan On The Up Down Under

Robbie Dolan with former champion jockey Jim Cassidy | Getty Images


It's a move that has already worked well for Johnny Allen, and swapping Ireland for Australia also seems to be paying off for Robbie Dolan.

Champion apprentice last year in Sydney, Dolan is attached to the rising stable of successful jockey-turned-trainer Mark Newnham, who has boxes at both Randwick and Warwick Farm. The pair combined last Saturday to win the G2 Arrowfield 3YO Sprint with Splintex (Aus) (Snitzel {Aus}) to give Dolan the biggest win of his career to date during the second weekend of The Championships.

“That was my fourth stakes winner and second Group 2 and to win on Queen Elizabeth day was unbelievable,” says the 24-year-old.

“I've ridden [Splintex] since he was a young horse and he used to be a strong-pulling horse but he has really settled down now and he's very tractable in his races. You can ride him with a sit or lead on him which is probably a bonus, to be able to put your horse on the speed in Sydney in the spring races. It's nearly a head start to be up on the speed.”

Dolan's own head start came when, acting on the advice of his jockey coach and friend Warren O'Connor, he packed his bags and flew 10,000 miles to Australia almost four years ago.

“I was sent to Paul Deegan's stable from the RACE Academy and I finally got my apprentice licence with Adrian Keatley,” he reflects. “I had a couple of winners for Adrian and then Warren recommended that I go overseas. I didn't think England would be a good place for me to go, with a lot of apprentices there, so Australia looked a better place and I've been here ever since.”

On arriving in Melbourne and heading to John Sadler's stable, Dolan found an initial bump in the road when Racing Victoria wouldn't issue him with an apprentice licence. He explains, “There's a waiting list in Melbourne to get an apprentice licence and you have to go through the programme, but they only allow six or seven apprentices every season to go into the programme. I arrived and I was very eager but they wanted me to wait 12 months in Victoria so I decided to go to Sydney where, if you're good enough and you're willing to work, you'll get a go.”

Now based at Randwick, Dolan has been apprenticed to Newnham for two and a half years. With 12 months left to run on his apprenticeship, he only needs four more winners to ride out his claim.

“I could easily ride it out before my time is finished which would be great,” says Dolan, who rode 93 winners last season and is on 44 so far this term.

The jockey flew his father, Bobby, who works for the Gittins family's Castlefarm Stud in Kildare, to Sydney last year to be at the ceremony when he was crowned champion apprentice and, while his family ties remain strong, he feels his home is now in Australia.

“I've met a lot of good people in the industry here and I wouldn't have had these experiences if I had stayed at home in Ireland,” he says. “I love Australia. It's very different to England and Ireland. There's less work on the ground but riding-wise you can easily ride six to ten lots. And that's good for me because you'll only get better at riding if you're riding, and I have definitely improved a lot just from getting on so many horses every single day.”

He continues, “I used to ride three lots on the Curragh and you could be on each lot for over an hour, and I could ride three or four lots in the space of that over here. I've made a lot of connections here and have a life for myself. I have a partner here now and I'm looking to buy my first property soon so this is where I can see myself in the future. It's a very good place to live, very safe, and I don't think I can see myself moving back to Ireland in the near future.”

As his friend Tom Marquand heads home from Australia after notching his second Group 1 victory aboard Addeybb (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), Dolan is grateful for the fact that Australian racing has been able to continue, even if it meant that his biggest win to date came in front of empty stands.

He says, “We're not actually as strictly locked down as Ireland and England. You can't have more than two people together unless you are from the same household and you have to keep a two-metre distance but they've done a very good job over here and it's great to still be racing.

“The racing in Australia is world class and I'm not sure if the English or the Irish lads realise how good it is until they've had a closer look at it. Tommy Marquand will tell you how competitive the racing is. It's just great to be involved.”

With Australian racing appearing to be able to continue behind closed doors, Dolan can look forward to reacquainting himself with the five-time winner Splintex for some potential Group 1 targets later in the year.

He says of the colt, “He's got a good kick off a strong tempo and hopefully now he can get a nice Group 1 sprint. The quality of sprinters here at the moment is very good. He's out for a spell now but when he comes back I'm sure he'll be winning some really nice races if everything stays good with him.”

Mark Newnham, the former go-to jockey at country meetings for Gai Waterhouse, later became a foreman at Waterhouse's Sydney stable before striking out on his own in January 2016. In 2018, he saddled Maid Of Heaven (Aus) (Smart Missile {Aus}) to win the G1 ATC Spring Champion S., and he repeated that feat the following year with Shadow Hero (Aus) (Pierro {Aus}), who went on to win the G1 ATC Randwick Guineas in March. Being attached to Newnham's stable has clearly done Dolan no harm and the star apprentice is understandably full of praise for his boss.

He says, “Mark would have over 100 horses between the two different stables. He's definitely an up-and-coming trainer and I'm lucky to be associated with him. He's a very good boss and a great mentor to me.”






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