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Champion jockey Cyril Small still has goals to reach

8 April 2022

By Jordan Gerrans

After almost three-and-a-half hours spinning gallopers around the Gold Coast track, champion jockey Cyril Small heads for the exit of the stables towards his car.

He thinks his morning is done just before 7.30am, with the track soon to close.

The multiple Group 1-winner has plans to get back to his Tallebudgera Valley farm to start work on everything he needs to complete there.

A voice rings out as he is nearing his car and it is local trainer Sharyn Chirnside, who needs a filly of her's worked as the track work rider who she had organised was suddenly unavailable.

With club staff needing to prepare for jump outs and the track about to close for morning work, the 63-year-old makes sure Chirnside isn’t left in the lurch.

“This morning I was the last one on the track at 7.30am,” Cyril said not long after. 

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The great Small does not get as many race rides as did at the peak of his powers – highlighted by his association with champion gelding Vo Rogue – but it is still as busy for the stalwart of the game.

“I used to always be the first here in the morning and last to leave in years gone by, with my best effort of 21 horses in one morning,” he said.

He has always prided himself on his work ethic, Small reckons if there is work to be done then you may as well just get stuck in and complete it.

The bright lights of feature triumphs with legend Vo Rogue are long gone but Small’s love for the industry – and the horse – still remain.

He has worked six days a week for the Edmonds stable on the Gold Coast for the last five years and co-trainer Trent Edmonds describes his track work rider as a “loyal servant to the sport”.

At his advanced age, most would understand if Small wanted to take it easy at the track and just ride quiet horses, but that is not his style.

“He rides gallops, he rides yearlings, he will ride basically anything,” Trent said.

“At his age, that is massive, it is a big thing. He has nerves of steel.

“He just has that love of the game; he enjoys educating the young horses and likes to gallop good ones when the chance arises.”

The Edmonds barn earlier this year retired Group 2-winner Vanna Girl and Trent explains that if not for Small’s persistence, she would not have reached the heights she did.

The top mare was troublesome in the early stages of her career and the experienced hoop worked closely with her to settle her attitude and Vanna Girl went on to claim more than $500,000 in stakes for her connections.

While Small works on a full-time basis for the Edmonds’, he will also give a hand to other trainers, such as Chirnside.

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It was young filly Super Sweet that Chirnside needed the veteran hoop to ride on this morning in question and the Gold Coast trainer credits Small for her calm nature.

“Cyril is great for her because every emotion you feel goes straight through to her so Cyril is wonderful, because he is so easy going and a happy fella, nothing phases him and that translates to the horses he rides,” Chirnside said.

“I love him riding her because he gets to teach her everything.

“It is amazing to see that he is still riding.

“It is irreplaceable to have his experience and knowledge, what he comes back and says after riding my horses is enormous.”

While Small’s race rides are few and far between in 2022, Chirnside rewarded Small with the booking in Super Sweet's debut run earlier in April.

He will happily take race rides when they offered – like making the long trip to Bundaberg a few times in recent years - but he will not actively chase them like he once did.

Toby & Trent Edmonds Next Racing

Lynlea Small – Cyril’s wife and a former trainer in her own right – understands exactly what Edmonds and Chirnside are talking about when they detail his connection to the animal.

“Cyril is an extraordinary horseman,” Lynlea said.

“I think that is the number one thing, he is a horseman first and a jockey second.

“He has been riding since before he could walk.”

His traits as a horseman began when he was born on a grazing property between Grafton and Casino in northern NSW.

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“It is just what I do,” he says modestly.

He started his riding journey at Casino before making his way to Brisbane and now residing on the Gold Coast.

That is when he met the horse that would change his life forever – Vo Rogue – as the popular front-running galloper would go to win 26 races, 11 of which that are now branded as Group 1 events.

Small was the pilot in 22 of those 26 victories as he was one of the most recognisable hoops in Australia during Vo Rogue’s stunning career.

After ticking over to age 63 in the second month of 2022, Small still has dreams in the saddle, which are likely to extend his career for another couple of years yet.

He took his first race rides in May, 1974 and wants to be able to say he was a professional race jockey for half a century before he calls time on his career.

“Over the last couple of years I have sort of had the ambition to get to 50 years race riding,” Cyril said.

“There is still a couple of years to go yet. I may still ride work after I finish up race riding, it just all depends.”

With Small not showing any signs of slowing down, the 50-year milestone should get him to May of 2024.

Small has been one of the Edmonds’ valued track work riders for five years but race rides for the yard do not come around very often.

Trent – who trains in partnership with his father Toby - jokes that the stable have committed to giving Small at least one race ride before he does hang up the saddle on race day.

“We have two years or so to find him one,” Trent said.

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After having to waste for much of his career, Small says his weight is as good as its been in 20 years in the early stages of 2022.

After almost 50 years as a jockey, why is his weight as manageable now as he nears the end?

Small puts it down to hard work, doing the hours at the track on the Gold Coast every morning, before tending to the countless tasks and projects he has on the go at his farm, which houses a handful of retired gallopers.

“I love the horse, the animal itself,” Small said.