Michael Walker at Moonee Valley Racecourse in Melbourne.
Michael Walker at Moonee Valley Racecourse in Melbourne. Vince Caligiuri

Walker hoping nan will be with him on big day

TOP hoop Michael Walker will dedicate today's Melbourne Cup ride to the woman who raised him - his grandmother.

Victory aboard Almoonqith would be even sweeter for the 32-year-old after his nan, Ossalla, lost her battle with cancer in January.

"It would mean the world to me and I hope she's on the back of my horse riding with me," Walker told Australian Regional Media.

"I hope I can do it for her."

Born and raised in New Zealand, Walker called Rotorua home before he and Ossalla relocated to Waitara.

It was there he convinced prominent Kiwi trainer Allan Sharrock to take him on as an apprentice jockey - after several knockbacks.

Ossalla was a big support when the then 11-year-old Walker took the reins and learnt the ropes.

"She used to drop me off early in the morning, before I started biking it before work," he recalled.

She was too ill to travel across the Tasman last year when Walker made his long-awaited Melbourne Cup debut aboard Criterion, who finished third, but managed to see "it on TV in the hospital".

Ossalla was the one constant for Walker in a life and racing career that has been sometimes successful, sometimes controversial.

 

Smiling Like ridden by Michael Walker, left, wins the Wellington Cup ahead of Ebony Honor.
Smiling Like ridden by Michael Walker, left, wins the Wellington Cup ahead of Ebony Honor. Phil Walter

After realising a career as a boxer wasn't going to eventuate - because "obviously I didn't grow" - Walker turned to the saddle because he "loved horses".

Receiving special dispensation to ride competitively as a 15-year-old, he would make a big impact - and fast - recording 131 wins in his first year and not only winning the NZ apprentice title but the jockeys' premiership as well.

With more than 600 wins on his home turf, Walker became a star, even pipping golfer Michael Campbell at one stage as the Kiwis' sportsperson of the year.

When the bigger stage came calling, he moved to Melbourne in 2004 as a 20-year-old. It was there his hopes to one day win a Melbourne Cup began to materialise, but so too did his use of cocaine.

After eye-catching wins in the Warrnambool and Brisbane cups, the bubble had quickly burst for Walker and he returned to NZ in 2005 to get his life and career back on the rails. Well, after he had crashed his Mercedes-Benz into a tree and been booked for drink driving.

He would later "find God" after a pig-hunting incident that almost killed him. He fell down a 10m ravine and was left with bleeding on the brain and seemingly little chance of pulling through.

 

Michael Walker with trainers David Hayes and Tom Dabernig.
Michael Walker with trainers David Hayes and Tom Dabernig. TRACEY NEARMY

Pull through he did and back in Australia he has formed a successful union with trainers David Hayes and Tom Dabernig and collected 18 Group 1 wins.

"I think I've matured mentally through the way I handle things," Walker said.

"The older I've got the better I've got.

"When I was a kid I was a bit eccentric, a bit out there. I still am now to a certain degree.

"I'm pumped for the occasion, but I'm not going to let it get to me ... just get the job done."

Walker has compared himself to the horse that will be under him today, Almoonqith.

Like the jockey, it will be his second run in the Melbourne Cup, after finishing 17th last year with Dwayne Dunn on board.

"He was a different horse then ... he pulled quite hard," Walker said.

"Tom and Dave have been able to get him to settle now. They have done a tremendous job to get him in that frame of mind.

 

THEY'RE BOTH READY: Michael Walker and Almoonqith have prepared well for the Melbourne Cup.
THEY'RE BOTH READY: Michael Walker and Almoonqith have prepared well for the Melbourne Cup. Vince Caligiuri

"The preparation the horse has had, he's primed for the job. The crowd and the whole occasion won't worry him. He just cruises along.

"He's a stallion."

Walker has been taking a laid-back approach today in the lead-up to one of the most important rides of his career.

"Whatever I'm thinking now or doing now is not going to change what happens Tuesday," he said.

"I'm a believer in that everything is already written up in the stars.

"All I've got to do is perform at the best of my ability and hopefully that's enough."



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