"Have saddle, will travel" could well be the catch-cry of former Tauranga apprentice Jockey Josh Oliver who is making a name for himself in Queensland, Australia.
Oliver arrived at the stables of Tauranga thoroughbred trainer Brian McKegg in early 2014 with just a handful of wins. When he left 12 months later he had taken his tally to 29, with 25 coming while indentured to McKegg.
"In September last year, Toowoomba trainer Ben Currie got in contact with me and asked me to come over on loan for three months and I have now transferred my apprenticeship to Ben, which has been great for my opportunities on the track over here," Oliver said.
For many years Kiwi jockeys have crossed the Tasman to ply their trade on Australian tracks including Bob Skelton, Jimmy and Larry Cassidy, Greg Childs, Michael Walker and James McDonald. In recent years a new trend has emerged with top Kiwi apprentices riding in Australia, where they regain a two or three kilo claim due to the Australian Country, Provincial and Metropolitan allowances.
Oliver has joined the like of Jason Collett and Rory Hutchings who transferred their indentures to Sydney Stables and Bridget Grylls in Brisbane. Another to cross the ditch is Amelia Denby, who was apprenticed to Jim Pender in Tauranga for a time.
"Ben Currie is one of the young emerging trainers in South East Queensland and is only 25 years of age. He has around 50 horses in his barn and coupled with the good number of other trainers at Clifford Park, I have received plenty of opportunities since arriving 12 months ago," Oliver said.
"While I rode 38 winners in New Zealand, my career has taken off riding from our Toowoomba base, kicking home 80 winners in 12 months.
"Col N Lil was my first Metropolitan winner during the Queensland Winter Carnival during May and June this year. Since then I have utilised my 3-kilo claim to good effect to win a further 16 races in town. I also got to ride Col N Lil in the prestigious Brisbane Cup."
Oliver told the NZ Racing Desk earlier in the year "Queensland seems to be the best for giving apprentices a go".
"Especially in Toowoomba where many of the riders are claimers and they give us opportunities all year round, not just in the winter. We race for 14,000 minimum stakes in provincial races, whereas the midweek prizemoney in New Zealand is like bush money here."
Twelve months of hard work is paying off for Oliver with last week's book of rides showing his hectic riding schedule. On the Tuesday he rode at Rockhampton, Wednesday it was back to town at Doomben, then down the road on Friday to Ipswich.
His valuable three-kilo metro claim was in good demand on Saturday at Eagle Farm, with him having six rides which resulted in a winner, second and a third, with all the races worth $64,000 in stakes.
"Being on the road so much I have a jockey agent to book my rides. Mitchell Speers has recently started doing my rides as he has a good rapport with many of the trainers and is a great form guy. Apart from flying to Rockhampton, there is much less travel than I was doing in New Zealand, with the SE Queensland metropolitan and provincial courses all less than two hours from Toowoomba."
Oliver's grand start to his Queensland riding career saw him named as a finalist for the apprentice of the year at the 2015/16 Queensland Racing Awards. While he finished second to James Orman who rode 143 winners, Oliver's recognition follows fellow Kiwi jockeys Rory Hutchings winning the Sydney apprentice title and Michael Dee being runner-up in the Melbourne apprentice premiership.
Just two months into the current racing season, Oliver sits sixth in the metropolitan jockey's premiership with seven winners, behind hugely experienced senior hoops in Jeff Lloyd, Jim Byrne and Robbie Fradd.
"With five months remaining on my apprenticeship, I would like to ride out my two-kilo claim, which will enable me to ride in the city when I come out of my time."