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Superstitious jockeys trying to 'get lucky'

Victorian jockey Chris Symons famously won't put his goggles on until he's behind the barrier, lest it bring him bad luck.

Chris Symon“Of course it doesn’t work, but you like to think it does. If it worked I’d be an unbeaten jockey wouldn’t I?” he laughs.

"There’s a lot of luck in winning – probably more than one would imagine in racing, so I daresay that’s why people become superstitious."

Symons is far from the only person in the horse racing industry trying to improve his odds.

Racehorse owner Lloyd Williams thinks it’s bad luck to let his jockeys ride trackwork before a race. That’s one reason jockey Kerrin McEvoy had never ridden Almandin before he won last year’s Melbourne Cup.  

"You need a lot of luck to win this race,” Williams said afterwards. “A lot of things need to go right."

And who can argue with his lucky streak, winning the Melbourne Cup a record five times?

Jockey Damien Oliver, who is set to ride Almandin this year in a bid for his fourth Cup, refuses to touch the trophy before any major race, or even take pictures with it in view. The first female jockey to win the Cup, Michelle Payne, always rides with her late mother’s good luck charm around her neck. And Winx's part-owner Debbie Kepitis tries to wear her ‘lucky’ purple, blue and black outfit every time the mare races.

Jockey Sally Wynne is superstitious about ironing her silks before a race. She ironed them one day in the belief she was a virtual certainty to win a race, as she wanted to look good in the photos afterwards.

"The one time I did (iron them), everything that could go wrong did go wrong!" she says.

McEvoy and WilliamsWrinkled silks are one thing, but some US jockeys are known to hurl brand-new silks onto the turf in the belief that because the silks have already hit the ground, they won't again.

Jake Noonan, son of Mornington trainer Tony Noonan, has the exact opposite belief. “I’ll never let my helmet or protective vest touch the ground,” he explains. “That’s the last place you want to see your helmet or vest because that means you’ve had a fall.”

He laughs that the superstition didn’t protect him from breaking his leg last year in a fall, or sustaining a head injury in 2011 that took months to recover from. Interestingly, the latter accident transformed his superstition from something he tried to follow, into something he now observes religiously.

Injuries like this are why LUCRF Super support the National Jockeys Trust. This partnership helps to ensure that there is help available to injured jockeys and their families when needed.

South Australian jockey Emily Finnegan swears by Hugo Boss Deep Red perfume. "Every time I wear it, I ride well or ride a winner," she says.

Queensland jockey Paul Hammersley always puts his left riding glove on first, while veteran jockey Dwayne Dunn, who’s raced all over the world, thinks the opposite way around is the charm.

“I put my right race boot on before my left, that’s about as far as superstitions go for me," he says. "Obviously they play a part mentally in your game – and there are, no doubt, also footballers who only eat certain things, or do certain things before a game too."

WinxDunn’s right: jockeys aren’t the only sportspeople known for having superstitions. Former England football team captain David Beckham straightens everything in his hotel room, NRL Cowboys player Kyle Laybutt has a lucky painted red toenail, and Swedish tennis legend Björn Borg would always grow a ‘lucky beard’ before he competed at Wimbledon. His success in winning five years in a row inspired generations of sportsmen to grow what has now become known as a ‘play-off beard’.

None of the jockeys interviewed for this article believe – or would admit they believe – their superstitions actually “work”. Some of them do it for a bit of fun, for others it’s just become habit. But many of them reported feeling decidedly uncomfortable those times they forgot to carry out their race day rituals.

Wynne says her “wrinkled silks” superstition is “ridiculous” but says she can’t change.

“It’s stupid, all the things you put bad luck down to,” she says. "The whole industry is based on a game of chance and superstitions are about eliminating bad luck." 

Photo credit - Racing Photos