Meeting the boss and assessing the diva
A COUNTRY kid from Queensland became a part of one of racing's greatest partnerships.
But to get the ride on Makybe Diva, a lot of things had to go right, and wrong.
Glen Boss speaks about drovers, rugby, quitting school, working seven days a week, bad pay, the final furlong of the third Melbourne Cup and getting emotional about a reunion with the great mare.
HM: Born and raised in Caboolture - one of six. Who threw you on a horse first?
GB: I was taught to ride by an old stockman, but the first horse I ever sat on was a clydesdale. To me as a kid, he looked as big as a house!
HM: How were you as a student?
GB: Sh--house. I loved school, I never missed a day, but I wasn't much good at it.
HM: You didn't last long in school after you went to the Gympie races.
GB: That was the beginning of the end. My grandmother took me to Gympie - we parked down at the stockyards at the top of the straight. When I jumped out of the car, there was a race being run right at that very moment - they were actually coming around the turn. I could hear them, see all the colours, I could smell them. I thought, "How cool does that look - that's my life right there!'' I quit school that week and was back at Gympie later in the week!
HM: Working in the stables?
GB: Yes. I arrived with a bag of clothes, and never went home again!
HM: The working life had begun. You'd ridden enough to go into the stable and do trackwork?
GB: I could ride really well. I went through all the shows, the Brisbane Royal and local gymkhanas. I could really ride.
HM: You were just 15 years old. Did you get homesick or ever regret it?
GB: I got a little bit homesick a couple of times, but no, not really. I was happy to get away.
HM: How was the pay?
GB: There was no pay - just work! That's all there was. All morning, mucking out, riding horses and then doing the same thing in the afternoon. That was seven days a week.
HM: No days off?
GB: No days off. It was only a small team, and it was all hands on deck. That's what we had to do so it was just the perfect start for me in the racing world.
HM: When did Kaye Tinsley walk into your life?
GB: The first year I rode races I won the seniors title and the apprentices title in Gympie - I smashed them. I rode that many winners. I nearly rode the program a few times. Graham Ireland, who was the head steward from Brisbane, he got me transferred to Kaye Tinsley on the Gold Coast in the second year of my apprenticeship.
HM: Kaye Tinsley said you didn't think there was anything you couldn't win on.
GB: I still feel the same! He taught me so much. He said, "When you ride horses, you never look at the semaphore board, never look at their odds. That will change how you ride them". I still don't look now.
HM: If you see its at 100-1 you think, "it can't win".
GB: Exactly, and you ride it like that.
HM: Did you meet your wife, Sloane, while you were working for Kaye?
GB: Yes, I was still in my apprenticeship. We met at the Gold Coast races. I used to live in the stables, and it was horrible. I like everything neat and tidy, and I had this bedroom above the stables that used to smell and be dusty as hell. I had it all clean and tidy. When I'd come home all my food would be gone, all my mates would be wearing my clothes! Sloane was living at home, and I got on really well with her parents so ended up spending a lot of time there.
HM: This is when you were 16?
GB: Yep! I used to hate living in the stables. I'd go down there and have dinner with them, stay there, get up at 2 o'clock in the morning, drive back to the stables at Southport, and I'd get the revs up, turn the lights off, put it in neutral and roll back in so no one would hear me sneaking home. As an apprentice, you are supposed to stay on site.
HM: No one found out?
GB: Well Kaye eventually did. He was watching me. He was waiting for me once, caught me out, took me to the stewards and they suspended me for three months.
HM: What for?
GB: Because I was supposed to be living in the stables! It was to teach me a lesson. Three months they gave me! For sleeping at my girlfriend's house!
HM: You are a "big-race rider" as they say. The bigger the moments, the better you ride. Why?
GB: I think the bigger the occasion, the more relaxed I get, which I think means the better I ride. I think I get more relaxed the better the horse I am on. When I am relaxed, I see things play out quite clearly in advance. That means I can keep the horse rolling, find the best path and not lose any momentum. I think that's why.
HM: How nervous were you heading to the barrier for Makybe's third Melbourne Cup?
GB: You know, not really. She's exactly the example of what we've been talking about. Because she was so good, I just felt so confident on her, that I relaxed. After she won the Cox Plate, I was so confident. I told Sloane that if she ran, just wouldn't get beaten.
HM: Unbeatable, in the Melbourne Cup, nine days after winning the Cox Plate?
GB: She won the Cox Plate pretty well, and then Lee (Freedman) got me to come down on Thursday and I galloped her. She was on fire, she was going better than ever, literally. Then we rode her at Mornington on the Saturday and she just about broke the clock she worked that well! That was when I knew there wasn't a horse in the world that could have beaten her over two miles.
HM: And it wasn't until the Saturday morning you knew she would run.
GB: We made the call after the work on the Saturday morning. She galloped alongside a very good horse, and I had to slow her down so he could keep up. It was like a race, but in a morning gallop, it was a really testing bit of work. It was like we were running the Mackinnon Stakes, over 2000m. She just smashed the clock and then pulled up like it didn't even happen.
HM: Amazing to be heading to the Melbourne Cup to do something that is long odds to ever happen again, and you knew it was going to happen.
GB: All I had to do was do the right thing. Not make an error. She wouldn't get beaten, only I could have buggered it up.
HM: Did you study the race over and over?
GB: I was doing the prep on the race in the lead-up, but it was really weird because I was so fastidious about my form, but I knew it was worthless. I played out all the scenarios, and I was about half way into it and thought, "It doesn't matter what I do - she's still going to win". If I put her in the right spot, point and shoot, she'll win. It was the Cup and I was thinking like that - it was crazy. But she was so good, you could think like that. She was just a supreme animal. How lucky was I to be the one on board!
HM: Crazy. Did you think she'd win three years earlier?
GB: The first time I rode her was in the Caulfield Cup in 2003 and I got off after she rattled home, and I said to David Hall who was training her, "I think we have a huge chance for the other Cup!"
HM: You were right. What about the second Cup?
GB: No, I wasn't as confident actually.
I thought she'd run well that year, but I wasn't thinking we would win. It was a wet track, and Vinnie Roe from Ireland was the best staying horse in the world. He loved the mud. We were just hoping she'd run well. She was going well, liked soft ground, but I wasn't certain we would win.
HM: It's amazing to think that hundreds and thousands of thoroughbreds have been bred, and raced, and you were alive at exactly the right time to be such an enormous part of a legend in Australian sport.
GB: For me to get on her was a bit of luck and a bit freakish. I was riding who was arguably going to be one of the best mares in Australia before her, Republic Lass.
HM: For the late Guy Walter.
GB: Yes. She was a superstar. She was one of the favourites for the Melbourne Cup, in the top three for the Melbourne Cup, top three for the Caulfield Cup, and top three for the Cox Plate. I'd broken my neck in 2002, and she was the mare I was recovering for to ride. She was that good! I was riding her in a gallop before her first trial in the spring of 2003, and I said to Guy, "She worked unbelievable, but she put one step wrong. It didn't feel good". He rang me back that morning and said she'd done a tendon. I was livid, because I'd worked so hard to get back.
HM: You rang David Hall to moan.
GB: Just to have a bit of a whinge really because I knew he'd understand. We were really close at that point, I rang him to say, "You wouldn't believe it, I lost my good mare this morning". I ran fourth on Pentastic the year before, so he said, "You can come ride Pentastic in the Cup this year if you want, he's here for you and the owners want you to ride him. Or, you can ride this mare that won the Queen Elizabeth last year. She's got 51kg in the Cup - Makybe Diva". Everyone was half talking about her because she'd won six in a row by that point.
HM: Why did David and Tony Santic let you on?
GB: From one conversation I reckon, and it was after I'd made a blue. I was going very well at the time, winning all the good races. I rode a really good colt for David Hall and Tony Santic in the Australian Guineas called Royal Code. I rode him in the lead-up races and he'd ran unbelievably well - we thought he could win it. He was quite well bred, but he was a real colt. He wouldn't do anything until you asked him, and he needed a bit of a touch-up to find his best. Hamish, I've hardly ever dropped the whip in my life, but I straightened up in the Australian Guineas at the 300m level up to win, and I went for the stick and it just wasn't there. I still don't know how I dropped it - it had just disappeared. I'd rode him hands and heels down the straight, and he just got beaten by Dash For Cash. He clearly should have won, it was all my fault. I jumped off the horse, and David was very upset, you could see it in his face. He was trying to hold it together and Tony was standing there and I said, "Tony, David, I'm so sorry. I just cost you the Australian Guineas". Tony put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Mate, don't worry, there'll be another day". He told me later, if I'd come in with some bullshit story, he would have never put me on any of his again.
HM: I didn't know that.
GB: Yeah. David rang Tony to ask who he wanted to ride Makybe Diva. He said, "Put G. Boss on". There were a lot of things that aligned to get me on her and change my life - some good, some bad, but they all had to happen.
HM: What do you think it is about a Winx, a Black Caviar, or a Makybe, that makes the hardened punter become emotional, the sportsman that doesn't like racing become an enthusiast, and those that have never been interested flick on the TV?
GB: I think they become more than an animal - they become sort of part of their life, humanised, part of the family. They are in the paper, the wives and kids and taxi drivers are talking about them. They actually have an emotional connection with the animal, and that's how it should be. They're not just numbers - they are living, breathing animals that people fall in love with.
HM: No marketers with an unlimited budget could do what those horses have done for the sport.
GB: No way. The horse is an amazing animal. I've said this often, but you know how they say dogs are a man's best friend? I reckon they run second to a horse. Go back to ancient times, and the horses are there. They've been there since the start. Ploughing fields, carrying soldiers. They've been killed in battle. They're there to serve you, and all they want to do is please you. People forget how much they're intertwined in our history. They've help build our nation, carried the drovers, moved the cattle.
HM: If I could take you back and give you your best moment in racing again, where are you?
GB: I'm at the furlong pole in the third Cup, out in front, all on my own. It's all over by that point, and I knew
I was home and about to have the best moment of my career. I could hear the call.
HM: You could hear Greg Miles?
GB: I could actually hear him. There're so many speakers along the straight, but I'd never actually heard them. I could hear him saying what he was saying as
I was going up the straight. I could hear and feel the crowd. I knew every eye was on the two of us. I knew it was her last race. I knew we couldn't be beaten.
HM: Sounds magical. You ran into her yesterday?
GB: It was so good to see her, she looked unbelievable. I was quite emotional to see her, actually, because she was really cuddly, and she nuzzled into me, and it took me back to this amazing place. I had her for about an hour, cuddling in, reminiscing. She's a huge part of my life.
HM: Bossy, you've been a part of one of the greatest partnerships the sport will ever see. Congratulations.
GB: Thanks, Hame. I've been lucky.