Mick Dittman ascends as one of Queensland’s greatest
FORMER champion jockey Mick Dittman will this week be inducted as a legend in Queensland sport's Hall of Fame.
Dittman, who rode 88 Group 1 winners, has been elevated to legend status in recognition of his exceptional riding career.
He had more than 1700 race wins, including the 1982 Melbourne Cup on Gurner's Lane, three Golden Slippers and two Cox Plates.
The now-Singapore based Dittman joins George Moore as the only jockeys among the 19 Queensland legends, who include Greg Norman, Greg Chappell and Arthur Beetson.
Dittman will be inducted at QSport's 25th annual Queensland Sports Star awards at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Saturday night.
He talks with Robert Craddock about his remarkable journey.
Do you miss riding?
I would do it all over again, no qualms about that. I do miss it but it is a young's man game and it is a dangerous game. You don't bounce when you get older. When you hit the ground at age 50 or older you hit it like a block of timber. Nothing bothers you when you are young.
You left school early didn't you?
I left at 12 and a half. I came from just outside Rockhampton. I wanted to try to ride and came down to the city but initially lasted just three weeks and went home but I came back again.
Bart Sinclair often says in another life you could have been a doctor. How did you become so street smart?
I've heard a lot of people say things like that but I didn't think I was. You just learn off everybody else. Bits and pieces off people you would like to be like. I'd had ponies since I was young so riding wasn't a problem. I initially did not go to the stables to be an apprentice jockey. I just wanted a job.
You what was a trait you learnt off someone?
I had strict parents. We were a poor family but I did not get away with anything. You knew if you did the wrong thing you would get belted. I had respect for my elders even though I was a little gung ho at times. I had a heart too. I was not the type of person who ran roughshod over people and I felt I did not change much.
You rode for the great Tommy Smith. What was he like?
Ultra-professional. All business. Never had an ounce of negativity. If you rode 10 horses for him in trackwork you could speak positively about nine but the minute you said something negative he would say "OK, see you tomorrow'' and he would be off. He did not want to hear it.
So you got along well?
I found him great. In all the time I rode for him he did not whinge about one ride and I rode some bad races on horses I should have won on like Bounding Away in the Rosehill Guineas. I left my run too late and came in and said "Tommy we should have won'' and he said "that's okay.'' Great trainer. Great man. It was just terrific fun going to the races with all the characters there.
You won the Melbourne Cup on Gurner's Lane with a daring ride along the rails. Was that the ride of your life?
Things went right for him. He had an outside barrier but I got him back on the fence ahead of four or five and things just kept opening up for him. When we straightened up they all left the fence. I went around one horse.
Did you feel like the villain beating Kingston Town?
Kingston Town was just a great horse but they can't win all the time and that was my turn so I am not going to apologise for it.
What was the strangest sling you ever got?
I won 11 straight on a horse for Henry Davis and the owner gave me two shirts. I thought "this is what it's like being spoiled''.
You were called The Enforcer because of your whip action. What do make of the whip crackdown?
I think it is a good thing. They are still able to give them a few whacks. They are different types of whips these days. Some horses used to respond to extra vigour some didn't. But if you were seen as being light on a horse an owner would often say "why didn't you give him and extra whack?''
So you prefer the modern way?
I think the way they ride now with their weight and balance forward and being lower in the saddle, toes in the iron, not so vigorous and not so much all over them is a better way. If I had to ride today I would have to learn to ride in that fashion and I would be a better rider. Having said that Hugh Bowman and Damien Oliver still ride the old way and do very well so what we did still works.
What about the animal protection lobby and the future of racing. Is it threatened?
Not in the immediate future. There are some concerns but race horses get looked after that well. It is actually crueller to have a horse in the paddock where he is not getting rugged up at night or gets anything for all the flies and mosquitoes. 99 per cent of race horses are so well looked after. They get a fortune spent on them.
You were apprenticed as a youngster to trainer Bill Kraft. He sounded quite no-nonsense.
In those days they were quite tough and he was no exception. Up at 3.30am to start at 4am and you would go most of the day and once the horses were done you might have to mow the lawn. It was tough but good.
Do apprentices these days get it a bit easier?
Absolutely. There are rules and regulations these days. They don't get hammered like they used to.
Who was the most famous person you dealt with in racing?
I met a lot of Australia's Prime Ministers and Lloyd Williams and Kerry Packer, who I had a lot to do with. Those men you had so much respect for because they were very clever. You can't be the same as those blokes but you have to learn from them.
How has it been for you having your son Luke as a jockey?
He has done well. He rides at around 56.5kgs mainly on the Gold Coast. He is tall and lanky and is like his mother in that she just loved riding and was big into the shows. He has ability and has found his niche and has a pretty damn good record.
Who was your greatest rival?
I grew up with Larry Olsen who is still a great friend. When I went south there was guys like Peter Cook, Jimmy Cassidy and Shane Dye. Racing is the sort of game where if you have that will to win you really think you have no friends on the course. I really felt that raw competitiveness but the great things about jockeys is that most of them are decent guys who know what we all went through. Some are more desperate than others and I was one of those. If I rode four winners I wanted five.
What did you make of the Winx story?
Winx was known throughout the world and I have only good things to say for her. She was a champion mare and she was extremely well placed in weight for age races. She never really came up against anything you thought might have really tested her. They did not take her overseas simply because they thought there was no sense because there is so much prizemoney in Australia and she had those races at her mercy. I probably would have done the same thing but the ultimate challenge is to win everywhere.
How do you feel about being admitted as a Queensland Sporting Legend?
I feel very honoured and I am really looking forward to the night. I had an average upbringing and limited schooling. Where was I going to meet the Kings and Queens? I am thankful for my journey and what the game has given me.