There are not many jockeys who can boast the unique achievement of having an unblemished strike rate in a prestige Group 1 race so it’s something Damian Browne holds close to his heart in Blue Diamond Stakes week.
Queenslander Browne may be most renowned for winning seven Group 1s on brilliant sprinter Buffering but his record in the Blue Diamond is nothing to be sneezed at.
The now 48-year-old, who retired in 2019 after a series of major health problems, won consecutive Blue Diamonds when he rode Earthquake to glory in 2014 and then teamed up with another Snowden-trained juvenile to win on Pride of Dubai a year later.
“I got lucky there for a couple of years didn’t I? I only ever had two rides in the race so my strike rate is pretty good,” Browne said.
“Funnily enough, I never rode either horse again either.”
Browne has treasured memories of riding his pair of Blue Diamond champions and says his wins in consecutive years threw up very different challenges.
Earthquake, unbeaten going into the Blue Diamond, started the $2.90 favourite despite drawing barrier 15.
Browne settled her three-wide with cover and she stormed home to blow them away.
The following year, Pride Of Dubai started $6 and won after a rails-hugging ride.
“Earthquake was supposed to win – her or Rubick – but when Earthquake drew the second outside gate my wife Kim reckons that is the most pressure she has ever seen me under leading up to a race,” Browne recalls.
“Thankfully it all worked out and Peter Snowden was a big part of that, I remember the last thing he said to me before he legged me on was he told me to just make my own decisions and ride by the seat of my pants.
“To get that confidence from him, rather than him trying to tie me down to instructions, was what I needed going out.
“With Pride Of Dubai, it was the only time ever I had probably doubted the trainer’s instructions a bit.
“I said I would really like to ride the horse differently.
“He wanted him to be midfield and heading to the outside.
“But I had done some form on how I thought the race was going to be run and Fontiton was the favourite and had drawn barrier one.
“I thought she would be right behind the leader and I wanted to find her back because I thought she would create room for me.
“It all worked out as I had planned and Peter told me post-race I was lucky we had won.”
Damian Browne and his wife Kim with their kids, Jacob, 14, and Libby, 12. Pic: Grant Peters, Trackside Photography.Source:Supplied
Browne, who lives a stone’s throw from the Sunshine Coast track, admits he misses riding but realises he can’t go back to the profession he loved for 30 years.
Browne, a 16-time Group 1 winner, was rushed to hospital in January 2019 and underwent emergency surgery for a perforated bowel which was caused by his long-term reliance on anti-inflammatory drugs for a chronic knee injury which had been surgically repaired 16 times.
His body went into shock and his kidneys shut down, he spent 10 days on an IV drip and couldn’t eat in that time.
In retirement, his chronic pain has eased because he now doesn’t have to waste and that means he can take anti-inflammatories on a full stomach.
He has a racing role on the Sunshine Coast where he swims horses and “helps out around the place” but says he dare not dream about a return to race riding.
In a perfect world, Browne would love to be back in the saddle.
But the potential health consequences would be too dire.
“The last 12 months have been really good, the doctors seem to have got the medication right and obviously because I can eat, I can take those medications now,” Browne said.
“I keep thinking to myself that I could get back on a horse, but I know full well what would probably happen if I did.
“I take four or five pills a day, with food now, and I would be silly to mess around with it too much.
“It wouldn’t be race day if I did ride in the future, and it would be unlikely to be even trackwork.
“If I did put my legs under that pressure it would undo the work that has been done.
“I am enjoying helping out swimming some horses as I do miss them and I miss the horse racing people but I certainly don’t miss the wasting.”
Originally published asFeature: The jockey with the perfect Diamond strike rate
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