Irish jockey Joe Doyle is heading home after breaking through for his first Group One victory, but he’ll be back in July to have a go at a full New Zealand season.
Doyle has been a popular addition to the New Zealand jockey ranks since his arrival in mid-November. He sits 29th on the premiership with 19 wins, but more importantly he’s scored three black-type victories and is one of just 15 riders whose mounts have earned more than $1 million for the season.
He broke through at the top level with a well-judged ride aboard Pignan in the Gr.1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m), on what turned out to be his last day of riding before returning home.
“I was going to ride next weekend, but unfortunately I picked up a suspension for a ride in the New Zealand Oaks (Gr.1, 2400m),” Doyle said.
“I’m heading back to Ireland next Monday.”
Doyle came to New Zealand on the suggestion of Samantha Finnegan, a sister of Foxton trainer Chrissy Bambry, to ride the New Zealand summer and early autumn before returning to fulfil some commitments in Ireland.
Once back home he will ride a few races and otherwise help get horses prepared for ready-to-run sales in Britain and France, particularly for the Byrne family of Knockgraffon Stables in his home county of Tipperary.
However, Doyle will be back, most likely in July, for an attack on the entire 2023-24 New Zealand racing season, which begins on August 1.
“I don’t want to commit to three years or anything like that, but I will be here for a full 12 months when I come back,” he said.
“My agent Kevin Booth is pretty keen to push it as hard as we can and go hard for a full year, to see how much ground I can cover, ride as many horses as I can, and hopefully pick up a few nice ones on the way.”
One of the “nice ones” Doyle is looking forward to partnering is Pignan. Doyle picked up the ride through Booth’s work when Pignan made her third start, a win at Trentham on December 17, and he’s now had four rides on the Lisa Latta-trained filly for two victories and two black-type thirds.
“She had been quite slowly away in her first two starts and she had been getting quite upset in the gates, but luckily that day I got her out of the gates and she hasn’t really looked back,” Doyle said.
“We always said that when we got her up to 1400m she would excel, and I know her well enough now to be able to keep a lid on her down at the start.”
Doyle picked his path nicely aboard Pignan. He had her trailing the leader Trobriand, and while most riders were going wide in search of better ground, Doyle made his challenge on the inside of horses – a path that also proved successful for Opie Bosson and Brando in the Gr.2 City of Palmerston North Awapuni Gold Cup (2000m) one race later.
“By that stage of the day it was pretty much the same everywhere across the track,” Doyle said. “They weren’t the best conditions, it was quite loose on top, so it was more important to keep the horses balanced rather than picking up a particular lane.
“The signs are that she’s a nice, strong, square filly who looks like she’ll stay, and hopefully she goes a nice mile and proves us right.”
Doyle, who walks about 54.5kg and got down to 53kg for the Awapuni meet, made an immediate impact in New Zealand, winning his first two rides aboard Buccheri and Golden Kiwi at the tight Rotorua track.
Despite the fast start, he found there was still a bit of a learning curve in New Zealand.
“The tracks are very different. I’m used to big hills and wide tracks, even up to 1400m on straight tracks. It took a bit of getting used to, but when the horses are used to it, it makes it easier,” he said.
“Riding horses for that turn of foot, it means getting into a position when you’re turning in. You have to look at each race individually, and if you don’t think you have enough speed to be up there at the start, you have to think about what horses will help bring you into the race.”
In addition to the Sires’ Produce, Doyle also scored black type victories aboard Devastate in the Gr.3 Wellington Stakes (1600m) at Otaki in November and on Leaderboard in the Gr.3 Wellington Cup (3200m) in January.