How a lit­tle boy from a small town jumped in the sad­dle and turned his dreams to re­al­ity and be­came …

The Advertiser - - NEWS - LIZ WALSH

FROM the mo­ment he could walk, Ker­rin McEvoy only ever wanted to ride.

Born in re­mote Streaky Bay on Oc­to­ber 24, 1980, it’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that he was born with a love of horses run­ning through his veins.

Both grandfathers, Bill Hol­land and Char­lie McEvoy, were horse­men – in par­tic­u­lar, his “Pop” Hol­land was a jockey-turned-trainer. His father Phillip was a jockey, and his un­cle Tony a trainer.

But it was Hol­land who was in­stru­men­tal in turn­ing the young McEvoy’s boy­hood love of horses into a suc­cess­ful ca­reer that – af­ter his third Mel­bourne Cup win on Tues­day – places him among the best jock­eys in the world.

“Ker­rin was around horses from a young age,” his mum Tracy says. “Even aged one, he was wob­bling be­hind my dad.”

Streaky is a farm­ing/ fish­ing town about an hour’s drive from Ce­duna on the western side of Eyre Penin­sula.

Some­what iso­lated – 700km from Ade­laide – the town is ob­sessed with horse rac­ing.

The walls of the front bar at the Streaky Bay Ho­tel are adorned with rac­ing mem­o­ra­bilia and al­most ev­ery­one seems to have a con­nec­tion to a horse, some­where, some­how.

Tracy and Phil are still liv- ing in the mod­est home in which their three chil­dren grew up. Ker­rin’s old bed­room has long been con­verted into a guest bed­room but an en­larged pic­ture of him mo­ments af­ter his first Mel­bourne Cup win in 2000 takes pride of place on a wall. For Tracy, McEvoy’s fo­cus and tal­ent was ev­i­dent very early.

First, he loved his toy rock­ing horse. Then, he grad­u­ated to a small broom and stick. Then he learnt rid­ing tech­nique on a chaff bag over which Hol­land slung a sad­dle. Then came pony club and gymkhana com­pe­ti­tions.

McEvoy would wake up early and run to Hol­land’s prop­erty up the hill to rake out the yards be­fore school. And ev­ery hol­i­days he would hop – aged only eight or nine – on the State­liner bus and head to Lind­say Park, where un­cle Tony McEvoy was a fore­man and he’d learn track­work.

“In those days, Port Lin­coln used to have their races on a Thurs­day ev­ery fort­night dur­ing the rac­ing sea­son, and Ker­rin would take the day off school to watch,” Tracy says.

“Even Mel­bourne Cup day … there was no way I could drag him to school on that day.

“He’d only read horse books like Black Beauty and by the time he got through those, he’d just read Hoofs and Horns (mag­a­zines), but the teach­ers didn’t care be­cause at least he was read­ing.”

When Year 9 at Streaky Bay Area School ended, McEvoy begged his par­ents to leave. They put their foot down: “At least do Year 10,” they pleaded.

“He was good at ev­ery­thing he tack­led … he could have gone on and done what­ever he wanted,” Tracy says.

It was a hard de­ci­sion to let their son leave school, es­pe­cially be­cause all the McEvoys who’d gone into jock­ey­ing be­fore him – Phillip and Tony in­cluded – turned out “heavy” in man­hood. But, says Tracy, McEvoy wasn’t a big eater, never eat­ing cakes or lol­lies “just chicken and a few veg and some mince meat”.

“But at that stage, he was only about 35kg so we made him do Year 10 then he left.”

McEvoy’s first jockey ap­pren­tice­ship was with Hol­land, rid­ing lo­cally across the Eyre Penin­sula, and af­ter his first win at Ce­duna in 1997, Ade­laide beck­oned and he quickly ended up in Mel­bourne.

Sis­ter Re­nae Ed­munds re­calls this as a tricky time for

Pic­ture: TOM HUNT­LEY

PROUD: Mum Tracy at her Streaky Bay home where Ker­rin grew up.

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