Australian jockey Blake Shinn, based at Arlington International Racecourse for the past five weeks, rode his final North American winner on Saturday when the 29-year-old jockey piloted High Heel Lady to a win in the first race on the July 15 card for trainer Moises Yanez. While the racing season in the Southern Hemisphere had cooled down during their winter months, Shinn took an opportunity from trainer Wesley Ward to head north and ride at Arlington. A native of Kilmore, Victoria, Shinn arrived at the Chicagoland oval June 5, riding his first mount to a second-place finish on June 9.
“The biggest thing coming here that I had to work really hard on was my technique,” said Shinn, who won the 2008 Melbourne Cup. “The Americans aren't really that accepting to the European style of riding. Right from the moment I got here, I've worked extremely hard to adapt. I thank Wesley Ward for introducing me to Jose Corrales, a trainer at Laurel Park and renowned jockey coach. Ward thought he would be the best teacher to make trainers in America be more accepting of me, and that would speed up the process to help get me more rides. I spent every week there on my days off. Jose's been great for me. Without his help I probably wouldn't have gotten the same support I have over the last couple of weeks.”
“He's a great teacher, and mentor,” said Shinn about Corrales. “He's a great family man, and he's a very inspirational person. I knew nothing about him when I went there, Wesley just said he's the best person to teach you the American style and help you learn American technique. Not only did he help me learn the American technique, he taught me so much about life and helped me become a better person.”
After riding 15 mounts, Shinn picked up his first win in the United States aboard a filly named Brisson for trainer Wayne Catalano and the Arlington Racing Club. The club, made up of 175 owners from mostly the Chicago area, cheered Shinn on with vigor as he piloted their horse down the stretch and filled the winner's circle for photos with the Aussie.
In between riding at Arlington and traveling to Maryland to train with Corrales, Shinn took opportunities from Ward to work horses at Keeneland and ride two races at Belmont Park while making the most of his time in North America.
“The American style is they're so well balanced, and they don't move very much,” said Shinn. “They swap the whip from right to left hand, they're strong in their upper body and they're strong in their core. Tactically they're brilliant. I've learned a lot from not just Jose Corrales, but also Wesley, Jose Valdivia, Jr. and a lot of different riders. It's been a great experience and that's the beauty of it for me – I had to learn the American technique and style, and I couldn't have done it without their help.
“It's been a great challenge for myself, and I feel like I've worked hard and the results have come,” continued Shinn. “I think I've improved significantly as a rider in the short period I've been here. You can never stop learning, and I'm always a person that wants to keep improving. I think if you have that view as a rider, it can take you a long way because there's always something new that you can learn every day.”
“He is a great rider, no doubt about that,” said trainer Ignacio Correas, IV. Shinn rode his tenth winner aboard Correas' Wagon Boss. “Whoever comes into the jockey colony, it challenges everyone else to be better. He has been a good addition to the group.”
“Australians are good horsemen in their own right,” said Shinn. “I take nothing away from the Aussies, but there's always something to learn. People do things differently. I've come over here, I've tried something different, and I think Americans do things their own way.”
“There were so many people helping me,” Shinn went on. “Jose Corrales, Wesley Ward and my agent Steve Leving, Wayne Catalano, who gave me some great opportunities – and even some people I didn't ride winners for that I am grateful they gave me a chance.”
“He's a nice young man,” said trainer Wayne Catalano, for whom Shinn rode five winners during his short stay at Arlington. “We gave him a few pointers, and when he went out there he knew what to do.”
During his short time in America, Shinn rode 20 live racing days. From 74 mounts the Australian found the winner's circle 11 times with 18 placings, and $218,829 in purse earnings. Shinn will arrive back home in Australia Monday, where he is scheduled to ride three mounts before the week is up.
“I would love to keep coming back every year,” Shinn remarked. “I really hope that I've made a good impression this year. When coming from Australia to America your reputation is left behind when you get on the plane. So I had to start from scratch and prove myself, and I only had five weeks. It was a massive challenge but I was very determined in the short time to try and get it right for my future.”
“I proved to myself that I could do it, and I'm proud of myself that I did,” said Shinn. “I am a bit sad to leave, but it was planned for me to go home. I've met all these great people and I can't wait to come back and see them again. The comradery here is amazing.”
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