The class act of Kerrin McEvoy

8 min read
After humble beginnings in Streaky Bay, Kerrin McEvoy has travelled the world and become one of Australia's most successful and recognised jockeys. John Berry takes a look at his rise to fame and the family-ties that helped to cement his career.

Sunlight starred on Super Saturday at Flemington as the Tony McEvoy-trained daughter of Zoustar stole the show in a vintage edition of the G1 Newmarket H.

Just over an hour later, The Autumn Sun (Redoute’s Choice) topped by the bill in Sydney with his thrilling win in the G1 Mostyn Cooper Randwick Guineas, in the process providing the latest reminder that Tony McEvoy’s nephew Kerrin ranks among the very best jockeys in the world.

Born in Streaky Bay (SA) in October 1980, Kerrin McEvoy hails from a stretch of South Australian coastline far off racing’s beaten track. However, from an early age there was little doubt that the Sport of Kings would be his calling. The McEvoy family had been riding and training horses successfully on the Eyre Peninsula for generations; while his maternal grandfather Bill Holland was for decades one of the most successful trainers in the region.

Kerrin McEvoy with David Hayes and Andy Williams

The McEvoy brothers grew up on the Eyre peninsula learning the racing game in Bill Holland’s stables in the 1960s before signing on as apprentices as soon as they were old enough. Inevitably, Adelaide called, and Tony and his brother Phillip found their way to the stable of the state’s leading trainer Colin Hayes.

Phillip enjoyed success as a jockey in Adelaide, most notably partnering the C. S. Hayes-trained Inceptor (NZ) (Oncidium {GB}) to victory in the Lord Mayor’s Mile at Victoria Park, but before long he returned home and spent the bulk of his 23-year race-riding career as one of the most successful jockeys in the Streaky Bay area, winning all the feature races in that part of the state bar the Port Lincoln Cup.

Tony, by contrast, stayed with the Hayes family for decades, eventually becoming the trainer at Lindsay Park after ‘C. S.’ had retired, David had moved to Hong Kong and Peter had been tragically killed in a plane crash in 2001.

Following the family footsteps

Phillip McEvoy’s son Kerrin followed in the family’s footsteps. As a boy he would ride beach-work on his grandfather Bill Holland’s horses before school; then he too headed to Adelaide, working initially for Russell Cameron before starting an apprenticeship with Peter Hayes at Lindsay Park.

He took to race-riding like a duck to water, eventually being sent over to Melbourne in 1999 to spend his last season as an apprentice in the Hayes’ stable at Flemington.

"He took to race-riding like a duck to water." - John Berry

Having just turned 20, Kerrin McEvoy was in his first season as a senior jockey as the 2000 Spring Carnival built to its crescendo at Flemington. Unsurprisingly, he did not have a ride in the Melbourne Cup. However, that all changed when the impeccably-bred but lightly-raced Mike Moroney-trained seven-year-old gelding Brew (NZ) (Sir Tristram {USA}) snuck into the Cup field at the eleventh hour by taking the G2 Saab Quality on Derby Day.

Chris Munce rode him, but he was not available for the Cup, having committed to the Gai Waterhouse-trained Coco Cobanna (NZ) (Casual Lies {USA}). Brew only had 49 kilos in the Cup so Moroney’s options were limited – so suddenly Kerrin McEvoy had a ride in the Melbourne Cup! The icing on the cake, of course, was that Brew won, making his rider the second youngest jockey in history to ride the Cup winner.

Kerrin McEvoy taking out the 2000 Melbourne Cup aboard Brew

In the 3:18.68 which it took Brew to win that Cup, Kerrin McEvoy established himself as one of Melbourne’s leading jockeys. His status as such was cemented three months later on another Moroney-trained galloper when he guided True Jewels (Brief Truce {USA}) to victory in the G1 Blue Diamond S. at Caulfield.

International demand

The 2002/’03 season saw Kerrin McEvoy’s career advance to yet another level. He enjoyed another big win early in the spring for Mike Moroney when taking the G1 Dubai Racing Club Cup at Caulfield on Pernod (NZ) (Centaine). That put him nicely on Dubai’s radar, which came in handy a few weeks later when Saeed bin Suroor sent three horses to Melbourne for the Cup. Frankie Dettori rode the first string Pugin (Ire) (Darshaan {GB}) while Richard Hills rode Hatha Anna (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells {USA}) but a local rider was chosen for the third member of the team, Beekeeper (GB) (Rainbow Quest {USA}). Kerrin McEvoy got the call and Beekeeper ran easily the best of the trio, finishing third behind Media Puzzle (USA) (Theatrical {Ire}).

The upshot was that Kerrin McEvoy was invited to spend six weeks in the Godolphin stable in Dubai during the UAE Carnival early the next year. Even with that hiatus inserted into his domestic season, he still won the premiership in Melbourne and collected the Scobie Breasley Medal. One thing led to another, and in 2004 the 23-year-old jockey was made an offer he couldn’t refuse: a retainer to ride as Godolphin’s second jockey (behind Frankie Dettori) in Europe.

Charlie Appleby with Kerrin McEvoy following Cross Counter's Melbourne Cup win

McEvoy took the transition to international jockey in his stride. His first season in England saw him become the seventh Australian rider to win the world’s oldest Classic (following Frank Wootton, Bernard Carslake, Edgar Britt, Rae Johnstone, Garnie Bougoure and Ron Hutchinson) when guiding the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Rule Of Law (USA) (Kingmambo {USA}) to victory in the G1 St Leger at Doncaster. The achievement was all the more special because the win owed plenty to McEvoy’s tactical acumen as he appeared to outwit Britain’s reigning champion jockey Kieren Fallon, whose mount Quiff (GB) (Sadler’s Wells {USA}) seemed a luckless beaten favourite when failing by a rapidly-diminishing head.

"The win owed plenty to McEvoy’s tactical acumen as he appeared to outwit Britain’s reigning champion jockey Kieren Fallon." - John Berry

Kerrin McEvoy rode as Godolphin’s second jockey in Europe for four full seasons, 2004 to ’07 inclusive. During that time his reputation continued to grow as he became in demand with an ever-widening selection of trainers, headed by Sir Michael Stoute. As well as winning Group One races on such Godolphin stars as Shamardal (USA) (Giant’s Causeway {USA}), Punctilious (GB) (Danehill {USA}) and Ibn Khaldun (USA) (Dubai Destination {USA}), he won plenty of big races on outside rides, including the 2006 G1 Falmouth S. at Newmarket’s July Meeting on the Clive Brittain-trained Rajeem (GB) (Diktat {GB}).

He ended the 2007 season in the top ten of the British jockeys’ table with 93 wins. He returned to Britain in the spring of 2008 seemingly set for an even more successful campaign, but early in the summer he was re-routed to Sydney at Sheikh Mohammed’s behest to become Godolphin’s jockey in Australia, the Sheikh having hugely expanded his antipodean operation by buying the Inghams’ Woodlands Stud operation in its entirety.

Kerrin winning the 2YO Magic Millions Classic for Godolphin with Exhilarates

Coming into his own

Kerrin McEvoy enjoyed a very successful six-year stint as retained rider for Godolphin in Australia prior to relinquishing the position in the spring of 2014. He had ridden some terrific horses for the team while Peter Snowden was at the helm, most notably in 2011 when the home-bred contemporaries Sepoy (Elusive Quality {USA}) and Helmet (Exceed And Excel) were the dominant two-year-olds of the autumn and the outstanding three-year-olds of the spring.

It has been as a freelance in the past five years, though, that Kerrin McEvoy has come into his own. Currently aged 38 and at the peak of his powers, he ranks as arguably the most accomplished rider in the land, his services sought after by all the big stables. He has ridden 21 Group One winners in Australia in the last three years alone, as well as both runnings of The Everest on Redzel (Snitzel).

Kerrin McEvoy and Redzel after winning The Everest for the second year in a row

These 21 top-level triumphs have been for nine different stables, with Chris Waller providing seven of them, Lloyd Williams’ operation providing four and the Snowdens providing three. He has ridden two of the past three Melbourne Cup winners, his triumph this season on Godolphin’s GB-trained Cross Counter (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}) rolling back the years to his early days in the UK when he and Charlie Appleby were friends and colleagues in Saeed bin Suroor’s stable. The win, incidentally, made him only the second South Australian jockey (after Jim Johnson) to win three Melbourne Cups, and the only one to do so on three different horses.

"His success is based on nothing more sinister than the old-fashioned virtues of horsemanship, professionalism, hard work, preparation, integrity, reliability and loyalty." - John Berry

Such extensive success, particularly in a field as competitive as race-riding, would generally imply a certain level of ruthlessness. Kerrin McEvoy, however, is the exception who proves the rule as his success is based on nothing more sinister than the old-fashioned virtues of horsemanship, professionalism, hard work, preparation, integrity, reliability and loyalty.

Kerrin McEvoy became only the second SA jockey to win three Melbourne Cups aboard Cross Counter

In short, he is, like The Autumn Sun, the class act that he is bred to be. In an age when racing sometimes appears to lurch from one scandal to another, the presence in centre stage of Kerrin McEvoy and his family (wife Cathy, nee Payne, and their children Charlie, Jake, Rhys and Eva) acts as a reassuring reminder that the good guys can be winners too.