Ad Jockey, Rick McLeish during trackwork on Manikato, (John Hart/Fairfax Media)

Manikato's track rider turns to track maintenance at Flemington

15 May 2024 Written by VRC

Rick McLeish, a former jockey, has spent the majority of his life in the company of horses. As a regular track rider for renowned champions like Manikato and Bonecrusher, he experienced the exhilaration of the sport firsthand. His role as a vital member of the Tracks and Maintenance team at the VRC ensures that Rick stays close to the animals he loves and the excitement of horse racing.

With a career spanning more than two decades in the saddle, Rick McLeish has been privy to almost every facet of the racing industry, from his early days as an apprentice jockey to his current role overseeing the pristine tracks and gardens of Flemington.

Under the mentorship of Bob Hoysted, Rick commenced his journey as an apprentice jockey at the age of 14, swiftly honing his skills in the saddle. His pivotal role as the main track rider for the esteemed Manikato, affectionately dubbed ‘Kato, highlighted his exceptional talent. 

Trusting his judgment with the horse, Hoysted “threw him on”, and anywhere the horse went, Rick went, too.

Despite Kato’s quirks, Rick developed a strong bond with the horse and understood his unique temperament, allowing them to work beautifully together on the track.

“He was a bit stubborn and spoiled, and occasionally he refused to do something, but he and I got on pretty well. When I rode him, as soon as he was ready to canter, I just went with him. He was such a strong galloper and you couldn’t ride him to evens. I’d control him to a gallop and he’d do the rest.”

Rick also rode Bonecrusher, who had victories in the Australian Cup and Cox Plate among many others, in work, describing him as a “big, strong-going animal.” He also educated 1981 Coolmore Stud Stakes and Oaks winner, Rose Of Kingston, “a relaxed galloper.” 

Throughout his riding career, Rick enjoyed triumphs in races like the 1990 Albury Cup and Easter Cup. Unfortunately injury led him to retire from riding but despite this setback, Rick’s passion for racing remained undiminished, leading him to his current role at Flemington.

Rick plays a vital part in maintaining Flemington's grounds, ensuring that they remain pristine for race days and everyday enjoyment. His intimate knowledge of horses and racing adds a unique perspective to his work, whether he’s mowing, watering, weeding, or pruning

He also performs a vital race-day role – driving the vets around in the car behind each race. “I’ve gone from being in front of the pack to being behind them all,” he quipped.

Rick’s love for racing extends to his family, who share his passion. They are actively involved in the sport, even owning shares in racehorses like Oh Cecilia, trained by Michael Kent Jr.

It’s evident that racing is more than just a job for Rick and his family – it’s a way of life.

The amazing Manikato

Manikato was a remarkable racehorse with an impressive list of victories. These victories, among others, earned Manikato a place in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame and cemented his legacy as one of the most brilliant sprinters to grace the turf. His speed, tenacity, and consistency made him a fan favourite and a true icon of Australian racing.

Some of his notable achievements include:

  • Ascot Vale Stakes (twice)
  • Blue Diamond Stakes
  • Golden Slipper Stakes
  • George Ryder Stakes
  • Futurity Stakes (four times)
  • C.F. Orr Stakes (three times)
  • William Reid Stakes (five times)
  • Doomben 10,000
  • Queen Elizabeth Cup

Manikato had an impressive Flemington record, racing at the track eight times for two wins (1978 Ascot Vale Stakes), four seconds (1979 Australian Cup to Dulcify and 1983 Lightning Stakes), and two thirds.

After concluding his racing career in 1983, Manikato faced challenges with a persistent virus that ultimately led to his humane euthanasia on February 13, 1984. He was laid to rest in Manikato’s Garden at Moonee Valley Racecourse, a site overlooking some of his most memorable victories.

In recognition of his remarkable career, Manikato was posthumously inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2002, forever enshrining his place among the greatest icons of Australian racing.