By Andrew Johnston
AS an apprentice he rode a winner in front of the Queen and 24 years on Queanbeyan trainer Chris Coleman is making a determined effort to return to the saddle.
After a promising career as an apprentice jockey back in the 1980s, Coleman gave the riding game away, instead turning his hand to training.
But with career ambitions in the saddle yet to be fulfilled, the 43-year-old father of four is eyeing an ambitious racing return.
“I’d love to get back into riding professionally,” Coleman told The Queanbeyan Age. “I’ve been dieting for the past eight months to see if I can make it back to riding weight and I’ve got two kilograms to go.
“Unfortunately now my back is starting to play up so I’ll have to try and manage that but it’s something I’d love to do.
“I never did get to ride in Sydney so I’d like to ride a winner up there. I got asked once by [Sydney trainer] Neville Voigt to get my weight down and go ride for him but I wasn’t interested in doing it back then.”
As a 19-year-old, Coleman piloted $66 roughie Charm Mahal to a famous victory in front of the Queen on Queen Elizabeth Stakes Day at Canberra’s Thoroughbred Park.
The Queen was in attendance for the much-hyped showdown between Australian champion at the time Beau Zam ridden by Jimmy Cassidy and Kiwi champ Bonecrusher ridder by John Marshall.
“That was the biggest crowd I’ve ever ridden in front of, you couldn’t move at Canberra that day,” Coleman recalls.
“After the race I thought I was going to get to meet the Queen but as I went over to her security’s nabbed me and asked me what I thought I was doing?
“[Jockeys] Jimmy Cassidy and John Marshall both did so I thought, ‘I’ve ridden the winner here, I get to meet her,’ but it didn’t work like that.”
After such promising early signs however, Coleman’s dreams of turning fully professional faded as the weekly rigours of saunas and fasting in order to make riding weight each week took their toll.
“I think the dieting starts to affect the way you think,” he said. “I used to drop six kilograms a week, every week through saunas and starving. I’ve found out since that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.”
Since then, Coleman has instead devoted his time to training out of a stable set-up in Queanbeyan where he generally has between one and four horses in work at any one time.
It’s a small operation. Coleman breaks in his own horses and does all his own trackwork, but it’s riding where his true passion remains.
“If I couldn’t ride, I don’t think I’d keep training,” he said. “I just love riding. I don’t think anyone in NSW has tried to train and ride professionally at the same time before so I’d like to find out if I could do it.
“I’ve been very lucky though. I’ve got to ride professionally, I’ve got to ride against the picnic riders, I’ve got to train and break them in as well. I’ve done everything which isn’t something a lot of people get to do.”
2012 Q Racing race meeting
Where: Queanbeyan Racecourse
When: Tuesday, November 13