Just hours after he was born, one of the first noises that jockey-of-the-moment Ryan Elliot heard was a live commentary of the Wellington Cup on a radio at the Levin maternity home.

That was 20 years ago.

Now, his name will forever be etched on the trophy as a Wellington Cup-winning jockey after riding Bulls gelding Gorbachev to win the $250,000 race at the weekend.

His mother Leanne, a former jockey herself and a current horse trainer at Ōhau, can easily remember the day when her eldest son was born - it was Wellington Cup day.

Ryan Elliot as a youngster aboard his pony Bonnie
Ryan Elliot as a youngster aboard his pony Bonnie

After the hard work was done, she politely asked the nurses if the radio could be tuned into the races so she could listen to the Wellington Cup, won by rank outsider Miss Bailey at odds of 160-to-one.

Since that day Ryan, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on January 29, has never been far away from a horse, learning to ride on a pony called Bonnie as a toddler on their Ōhau farm.

A former student of Ōhau School and Horowhenua College and an age grade hockey representative, as soon as Ryan was old enough to leave school he pursued his goal of becoming a jockey, and that meant leaving home at a young age.

Elliot was still 15 when he joined the busy Graeme Rogerson stable in Tuhikaramea and had barely completed his secondary school requirements.

Leanne said Ryan was taken to the stables for an introduction at first to make sure it was the direction he wanted to take, but the youngster was keen to follow the path of hard work and early mornings.

"He just wanted to ride," she said.

 Jonathan Parkes, Ryan Elliot and Sam O'Malley at the 2019 Wellington Cup.
Jonathan Parkes, Ryan Elliot and Sam O'Malley at the 2019 Wellington Cup.

The Wellington Cup win capped off a whirlwind summer for Elliot, who has hogged his share of headlines after winning the $200,000 City of Auckland Cup during the Ellerslie summer carnival.

"It was a great thrill. It's one of the best cups to win. It was a great day," he said.


Gorbachev was a tough ride for Elliot, who was full of praise for the horse's trainer Bryce Newman from Bulls.

"It was a top training effort. I had the horse and I had the draw...he just pulled so hard," he said.

Elliot positioned Gorbachev to the pace, but he was concerned that there wouldn't be much gas left in the tank to fight out finish.

"He fought. I'm glad he lifted," he said. A photo finish was called to determine the winner, with outsider Dee and Gee finishing second.

Still an apprentice, Elliot already had 30 winners this season to his name, and look set to eclipse his previous best season tally of 43.

The stake-earnings of horses he had ridden this year had past the $2.5 million mark.

"I'm riding the best I've ever ridden. I'm more focused, but you've got to have horses too," he said.

Elliot said his long-term goals as a jockey would be to win a Group One race and a New Zealand jockey premiership.

His determination could not be brought into question. As an early teenager he broke his right leg badly after falling from a horse at the Levin track and was out of the saddle for at least a year.

Then, not long after it had healed, he broke it again.

"It's fine now though. It doesn't bother me at all," he said.