18 April 2024

How jockey Troy Phillips has gone from the starting gate to the winner's circle in love and life

| Kellie O'Brien
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Troy Phillips jockey

Troy Phillips riding Arrows Destiny in 2017 on Cup Day at Nowra. Photo: Supplied.

When Troy Phillips’ career advisor suggested the four-foot-high lad try work experience as a jockey rather than a pastry cook, little did he know it would lead to a 40-year racing career, riding winners for the likes of Bob Hawke and igniting a great love story.

As a 16-year-old at the then Berkeley High School, the Year 10 student watched as his schoolmates went out on work experience.

“The careers advisor came up to me, and I was only four foot high and weighed about 32 kgs, and he said, ‘Have you ever thought about being a jockey?’” he said.

“I thought, I’ll have a crack. So I went to the stables and never went back to school.”

He said racing had been good to him over the years, getting to meet high profile personalities and prime ministers.

“I rode a winner for Bob Hawke and rode a winner for Paul Keating, so that was pretty cool,” he said.

“I still remember the first time I met Bob Hawke – it was a Black Opal Day three-year-old race at Canberra.

“I came out of the jockeys’ room and the owner of the horse I was riding on the day, a bloke called Geoff White, who was a very well renowned racehorse owner and is up there amongst racing royalty, came up to me and said … ‘I want you to meet a mate of mine’.

“He pushed me through the crowd and said, ‘Troy Phillips, this is Bob Hawke.’”

His boss at the time wasn’t impressed he opted to see a prime minister before him after a race.

By age 19, Troy’s racing career had quickly escalated, prompting a move to Sydney to progress it further.

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“I was engaged at the time to a young girl who used to be my high school sweetheart, but we were too young, so I went my way and she went her way,” he said.

The two would go on to have families of their own.

“Then, 17 years later, we got back together,” he said of his eventual return to the Illawarra.

“Now, we’ve been married for 18 years, and between us we’ve got eight kids and 12 grandkids.”

Troy’s career has seen him race in Hong Kong and the UK, where he believes the standards are “miles above” Australia, but admitted having raced throughout Australia over his 40-year career he’d seen great improvement at home too.

“I can tell you the prize money nowadays is better than it’s ever been,” he said.

Troy gave credit to Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys for the work done against the online bookmakers and the money he had injected back into the racing industry.

“NSW is now the premier state as far as prize money is concerned,” he said.

“To give you a comparison, before NSW won that court case and got that legislation through, what we were racing for in an entire meeting at say an average Saturday Goulburn or Nowra meeting, the prize money in that whole race meeting has now been raced for in one race.

“The spillover from that is there’s money put aside for the strappers and the groomers, and the Injured Jockeys Fund now is worth a lot more money than it’s ever been worth.

Troy and Mandi Phillips

Troy and his childhood sweetheart Mandi. Photo: Supplied.

“That’s pretty big, because for years the Jockeys Association struggled to get benefits for bereaved or seriously injured jockeys.”

Troy is no stranger to sustaining injuries himself, admitting to having “had some doozies”.

“My first fall I was the only apprentice riding in this race, which was a big rap that my boss put me on it,” he said.

“It was a group race and for an apprentice to be able to get to ride in those races, it doesn’t happen very often.”

He said riding his favourite horse Billy Asset and being a third favourite for the race made it an even bigger deal.

“I was on the back fence, waiting for the split to come and the horse in front of me slowed real quick and funny, and I didn’t realise it had stopped that quick and I barely clipped its back heels and I went down through the fence and through the inside rail,” he said.

Troy brushed that one off, admitting there’d been worse.

“I’ve broken my jaw in three places,” he said.

“I had a horse at Goulburn come out of the barriers and it went about 100 metres and it decided to put on a rodeo and bucked straight through the inside fence and I … split my bottom jaw through the middle of my teeth and broke my hinges.”

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Today, Troy’s days consist of the alarm going off at 3:45 am to get to the track, spending his mornings riding, before getting home to clean his Uber car for an eight-hour shift driving.

“I’d done a bit of travelling with Uber and thought I reckon I can do this job that one per cent better just by having small things,” he said of taking it up 18 months ago.

“I’ve got lollies there, I have fresh bottled water that I keep in an Esky to make sure it’s nice and cool, and then I’ve got towelettes.

“It’s nothing flash and it’s all out of my own pocket, but people get in the car and it’s something special for them.”

It’s a far cry from the 18 years he spent working in operating theatres at hospitals.

He believed the Illawarra medical system was in need of greater support, in comparison to racing in the Illawarra which he said was doing well.

“Kembla Grange started out as a provincial track, and it is now escalating to the point where it’s going to be one of NSW’s major race courses,” he said.

“With the impending sale of Rosehill racecourse, Racing NSW is investing a lot of money and time into Kembla Grange.”

He said with a new secondary track being put in to complement the state-of-the-art, all-weather polytrack, he envisaged within 15 years Kembla Grange would be “one of the major hubs of NSW racing”.

And will Troy still be riding then to enjoy it?

“As long as I’m staying fit and I’m looking after myself, and the old aches and pains stay away, I’m not going to put a time stamp on it.”

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