The new kid on the block

29 April 2021 Written by Celia Purdey

Like many people in the racing industry, the sport has been a part of Nick Ryan’s life for as long as he can remember.

The son of former jockey B.J. Ryan, his grandfather was a foreman for Tommy Hughes and his stepfather, Jeff Gordon, is a highly respected bloodstock agent. He is also a “Flemington boy” through and through, growing up in Ascot Vale, “a stone’s throw” away from the famed racetrack.

It seemed destined that he would work with horses in some form, and attending pony club from the tender age of four was just the beginning. He became an apprentice jockey, and went on to set records that had never been done before.

“I rode for six or seven years as an apprentice, but retired in April 2009 due to my weight,” said Ryan.

In that short time in the saddle, Ryan won a host of accolades. He was Champion Country Apprentice at the age of 17, as well as Victorian champion apprentice and Australian champion apprentice, riding more metropolitan winners than any other apprentice in Australia. His star continued to rise, and in 2004 he represented Australia at an international jockey’s series in Mauritius, riding against some of the best apprentices in the world. More championship titles followed, as well as stints riding in Hong Kong, Singapore, France and Ireland. He even nearly secured the 2004 Melbourne Cup on 100/1 outsider Zazzman when third behind Makybe Diva and Vinnie Roe.

After returning home and retiring from riding, Ryan became foreman for Brett Cavanough in Albury where he broke-in and educated more than 200 yearlings, many of which went on to become Group 1 winners. “I had no intention to train, but I got my passion back being around the horses,” Ryan said.

Ryan then started working with Ciaron Maher, and horses such as Jameka and Petit Filous. An opportunity to train at Caulfield arose, and Ryan seized it, even though he had just one yearling. His stable grew, and success came with it.

With the training complex at Caulfield closing down, Ryan has relocated to Flemington where he has around 35 horses in work. “It’s like I have come home,” he said of training at the famed course. “I live in Essendon, and there are so many familiar faces around the track.”

He and his small team love working at Flemington. “It is run so professionally and the tracks are just pristine every morning.” Ryan is particularly familiar with the tracks, with the ex-jockey choosing to ride his own horses in track work every day, alongside his assistant, Toby. “I still love getting up and riding a horse. It is still my passion and I would still be a jockey if I could.”

With some very promising horses coming through, Ryan is excited about the future, even if the job doesn't leave him much downtime. “It is a seven-day-a-week job, and my phone doesn’t stop ringing, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “And to be here at Flemington, working alongside renowned trainers I’m privileged to be even mentioned in the same breath. It’s amazing.”