Age no barrier in jockey Dwayne Dunn's career
DWAYNE Dunn is having the time of his life. At 43 and in a career that has already spanned 27 years, the veteran hoop has never been better placed.
From humble beginnings in the small South Australian coastal town of Ceduna, where he saddled up for his first race in 1989, Dunn has gone on to finally conquer the country's epicentre of racing, Melbourne.
"I'm super proud to be going this well at this stage of my career," he told Australian Regional Media. "I had it in my mind that 35 was maybe where you start to go on a downhill slide - fortunately for me, it's gone upwards."
Dunn claimed his first Scobie Breasley Medal in August as Melbourne's premier rider - having been runner-up three times - beating multiple winners Craig Williams (four) and Damien Oliver (eight).
He is now setting his sights on a first Melbourne Cup win when he contests the race that stops a nation for the 11th time tomorrow at Flemington when aboard outside chance Our Ivanhowe.
"I've been a solid player but it's good to be a major player this year," he said.
"I've always been the one there chugging around the edges. Now I'm front and centre and been put in the hot seat a bit more than other years when ... whatever you get's a bonus.
"I don't think I'm riding any differently to what I have done in the past, it's just the opportunities have opened up.
"I've got the right people around me at the moment ... and the confidence from the owners and trainers to get the job done."
Dunn says he can thank the likes of Jim Cassidy, Jeff Lloyd, Glen Boss and Damien Oliver for instilling that confidence.
"We've come through an era where we've had some guys that have changed the mentality of trainers and owners," he explained.
"Jimmy was able to be a Group 1 rider right to the very end (when he retired last year aged 53).
"That's probably opened the doors for us to hang around a bit longer.
Boss (aboard Grey Lion) will be the oldest jockey in tomorrow's Melbourne Cup field aged 47, then Oliver (who'll ride Exospheric), aged 44.
Dunn says it's been important to keep a healthy mind and body - one that will tip the scales at a trim 57kg tomorrow.
"The whole weight thing hasn't been that hard. I actually feel like I'm shrinking," he said with a laugh. "I'm healthy and the desire is still there.
"I think the main thing for guys getting to my age is not losing your nerve out there, being confident enough to still play hard ball and still want to get in amongst it.
"And riding winners is always a big thing for confidence, whether you're just starting off or you're this late in your career."
From 14,718 starts, Dunn has felt the thrill of being first past the post 1897 times.
Admittedly, the first was a long time coming - "73 rides or something," he recalled. "I think that was probably my longest run of outs."
Dunn had to wait until 2005 for his first Group 1 winner - for fellow South Australian Mark Kavanagh on Undoubtedly in the 2005 Blue Diamond, a race he would go on to claim the next three times for David Hayes with Nadeem, Sleek Chassis and Reaan.
Among that would come his greatest triumph, in the 2006 Caulfield Cup with Hayes import Tawqeet.
"It's an industry in which you're learning every day," he said. "There's so many things I can still do better.
"To stay at your top in any elite sport you must be involved all the time.
"I think that's where you see the top tennis players and footballers, they've got to keep improving because the new kids are coming."
One of those new kids is his own, son Dylan, who on the night Dunn snr won the Scobie, his son won the metropolitan apprentice jockeys premiership.
"It's been a bit of help with Dylan, the fact that he's probably putting that pressure on me to keep improving," he said.
"People have to understand the pressure Dylan has been under and he's handled it really well. We're just super proud.
"He's exceeded our expectations. That's a credit to himself and his dedication and desire to want to get to as high as he can."
After initially running around the house with silks and pretending to use a whip, Dylan went on to make his racing debut at the same Ceduna track where Dwayne raced for the first in 1989. Both were given their starts by local trainer Trevor Trenowden.
"I was one who pushed him away from it," Dunn admitted. "You just know how hard it is. You know the dangers in the sport - don't kid yourself, we can get killed out there.
"When it's one of your own children you try to keep them away but in saying that he had to show me that he wanted to do it."
That he has done, and in May Dylan had extra motivation when aboard Lahqa at Sandown. Dad Dwayne was in the same race on Weather The Storm.
Young Dylan won the race and bragging rights in the Dunn family.
For now though it is Dunn snr who will take centre stage again tomorrow in the $6.5 million Melbourne Cup racing Doomben Cup winner Our Ivanhowe for Lee and Anthony Freedman.
Dunn was aboard Almoonqith (17th) last year, and Araldo (seventh) in 2014 shortly before the horse was forced to be put down after breaking his leg when spooked by spectators.
Suffice to say, in order to break his Melbourne Cup drought tomorrow on Our Ivanhowe, Dunn will be hoping for rain.
"He does need a wet track. If the wet track comes he's going to be very hard to beat," he said.
"If it doesn't come he's probably a top 10 chance."
Of course, if Dunn doesn't taste victory this year, he will no doubt have plenty more chance to come.
Age is certainly no barrier.