Meet The Locals: Melbourne Cup Winning Jockey Wayne Harris

My brother-in-law, Wayne Harris, rode the horse Jeune to glory in the Melbourne Cup in 1994.

He has also ridden winners in many other big races including the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Epsom Handicap, Newmarket Handicap, Blue Diamond Stakes, Doomben Cup, Queensland Oaks, two Magic Millions, two ATC Sires Produce Stakes, three Champagne Stakes, Hong Kong International Bowl, Singapore Gold Cup and Ireland’s Ballyroan Stakes.

Wayne grew up in Muswellbrook with older brother Gary, and younger brother Greg, who is now my husband and property manager at Lindy Harris Real Estate.

I never tire of hearing about Wayne’s stories from the track, but I also know the extreme physical sacrifices he has made as he strove for glory.

I sat down with my champion of a brother-in-law for a chat about his race career and how life panned out post track.

So, Wayne, I guess the best place to start is on Tuesday 1 November 1994 when you rode Jeune past the winning post to win the Melbourne Cup. What an achievement! Can you tell how it came to be?

It was a lifelong dream. Whether you’re a jockey, a trainer, or a breeder, everyone in racing wants to be a part of the Melbourne Cup. But to win it, well, that’s just another thing again. I was a last-minute selection by trainer Darren Hayes after the Melbourne Cup barrier draw on Saturday night, prior to the race on Tuesday.

That Saturday, Jeune had been ridden by the jockey Shane Dye. Jeune was a very quirky horse and had a bad habit of giving jockeys a very torrid ride. He wanted to pull too hard and run too hard. Then I got the call-up. I was picked as I had a very good name for riding awkward horses. I’d ridden for Hayes before but I’d never been on Jeune’s back. No one thought he would run the distance and he had the high odds of 20/1 of winning.

So, where did the magic come from on the day?

It has to be something to do with the jockey, doesn’t it? I had a lot of luck riding horses that other jockeys had trouble winning on. It was a matter of getting them to settle to do what was needed. What Jeune had working in his favour was the wet conditions. He loved to run in the wet. I put Jeune to the front of the line to try to get him to settle down and relax a bit. He didn’t stop running until he crossed the finishing line.

What was that feeling like?

From the time I was 13 years old, I used to dream of riding in the Melbourne Cup.  I had a couple of rides in the Cup, prior to the win. I didn’t do too well but the thrill of riding in the big race was amazing. But winning! I always say I wish that everyone could have a day like that in their lifetime.

Where did your love of horses come from?

My brothers and I played a lot of sports. We all had a natural aptitude for it. I was a fairly small-sized boy. People would often joke that I should be a jockey. My Uncle Pat was a hobby trainer and he would take me to the races. Through that, I got offers from various stables to try my luck as an apprentice. I ended up with Pat Farrell’s stables in Muswellbrook. I had a very successful apprenticeship. I was leading apprentice in Australia for three years, riding 558 winners and being the youngest jockey to win a Golden Slipper 40 years ago. But the more success you have the more you want. I rode on and off for about 25 years but I had a lot of bad falls and injuries. I also suffered two brain tumours but I came back from both of them to ride winners.

Most punters wouldn’t understand the physical toll, would they?

No, people mainly see the good side of racing, but they don’t see the sacrifice. They probably imagine jockeys finish their breakfast in the morning and then head off to the races. When I was a senior jockey, before race day I wouldn’t eat for two days. I’d be sitting in a boiling hot sauna or in the middle of summer, running, dressed in garbage bags and plastic jackets in the midday sun, to make me sweat to lose weight.

What career did you pursue after the racing finished?

I was pretty lucky, I did some racing commentating work for Channel Nine and then I was asked to work for Sky Racing. I moved to Wollongong 12 years ago and I’ve been working at the Kembla Grange race track as a correspondent for Sky Racing, giving expert tips and commentary. It’s been a good job, as I’ve got to travel and catch up with a lot of racing people. I always enjoy trying to help people find a winner. However, I’m not sure I’ll be back in a hurry as this year I’ve been in and out of the hospital. I had 11 procedures and operations on my back from all the bad falls I’ve had.

What has your career taught you about life?

I was taught early that you’re not going to get anything out of life unless you put something in. People just don’t come and hand it to you. I’ve been up to the highest highs you can ever get. And I’ve been to the lowest lows. I’ve been lucky to have success. However, some people will dedicate their lives, blood, sweat and tears to something and don’t get the rewards they deserve. But you’ve got to keep sticking your head out and having a go. My theory is to try to be nice to everyone and hope it comes back around. Ultimately, it comes down to friendships. People say you can count your good friends on one hand, but I think I can count them on two.

What are your tips for this year’s Melbourne Cup?

I normally make up my mind after the barrier draw. Then you know who the jockey is and how the horse has been running. My tip is look at how the horse runs in the weather. Jeune loved running in the wet and lucky for me it was a wet track.

Finally, Greg has told me he was potentially a better jockey than you, it was just his weight and the lack of ability held him back. How would you respond to that?

Did he have a few drinks when he came out with that one? Greg did try and follow in my footsteps. When I first started out, I was a great size for a jockey and took to it like a duck to water. I was probably a freak. Everyone was expecting Greg to be as good as me. That was a big pressure. He had a few falls and he was getting a bit frustrated. One day, he asked me what he should do? I said, ‘Mate, it’s hard work, if your heart’s not right in it, then don’t do it.’ I also knew he was going to get bigger. So, he got to experience eating and drinking to his heart’s content, which was something I couldn’t do for years.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Wayne. We are all very proud of you.  

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