By Mike Dillon
When you ask Richard Cully how tall he is he answers as only an Irishman would.
“If I bend over I'm just under six foot,” says the talented jumps jockey with a smile.
If Cully isn't the tallest jockey going around on either side of the Tasman, whoever is must be well hidden.
The 32-year-old was standing just that little bit taller at Ellerslie the other Monday after winning the McGregor Grant Steeplechase on the Ben Foote-trained Amanood Lad. Two days earlier he'd won the $100,000 Australian Steeplechase aboard Krase at the Sandown track in Melbourne.
But that's only part of the story. Cully later revealed the physical and mental torture he had to put his already spare frame through to ride Krase at 64kg.
“That was tough - 64 shouldn't even be a number,” he declared.
But it did no damage to his energy levels. On the Sunday, 24 hours after the Australian Steeple victory, Cully rode at Hamilton in far west Victoria, dashed back into Melbourne and boarded a midnight flight to Auckland to be on hand for five Ellerslie rides.
“That was a beautiful ride,” said trainer Ben Foote as he watched Cully bring Amanood Lad back to the Ellerslie birdcage. Foote is well placed to judge, he was himself a successful jumps jockey and this Amanood Lad victory made him yearn even deeper for the one thing that avoided him during that career - victory in the big one, the Great Northern Steeplechase.
He's not sure whether it made it better or worse that at the start of the new millennium he finished second in the Northern on Cool Conductor, beaten by fine ‘chaser Golden Flare, part owned by his father Cedric.
“Yes, I think this is the type of horse to win a Northern,” said Foote with as much conviction as hope.
Amanood Lad shared the pace most of the way and had to survive a desperate struggle with Stainley from the foot of the Hill the last time.
“I'm surprised he lasted that as well as he did because there was always going to be improvement in him coming out of this race,” said Foote. “I watched each horse walk through the birdcage before the race and he was the only runner that had a bit of a belly on him.”
Although you wouldn't know it talking to him, Richard Cully is actually Australian. He was born in Sydney to Irish parents and went back with them to live in Ireland between the ages of five and 15, where clearly the brogue was absorbed by his formative years.
He came to New Zealand to ride for several years, winning the jumps jockey premiership twice before going to Melbourne, where he teamed up successfully with former high-class rider Patrick Payne's stable.
Before combining to win the Australian Steeplechase they won Warrnambool's Grand Annual with Chaparro in June. Krase had been sent to Payne by New Zealand trainer Kevin Myers because he felt the horse was better suited to the Australian style of racing.
Kevin Myers' stable rider Matt Gillies isn't the type to spew forth with profanities, which might have been the case for most jockeys after winning the K S Browne Hurdle on hard-minded Sea King on Queen’s Birthday Monday.
“Difficult” hardly covers the general attitude of Sea King, who rarely fails to give his jockeys a difficult ride.
Gillies didn't escape that in winning, Sea King turning what should have been a runaway victory into a tough struggle with Just Got Home in the closing stages.
Had the interference caused to Just Got Home been slightly worse there may have been a reversal of the half-length winning margin, but Sea King did a good job under his 70kg topweight and Gillies played his part with a masterly ride.