Do the crime, do the time; that’s exactly what talented apprentice jockey Brodie Kirby has done.
The 23-year-old was forced to sit on the sidelines for six months following a suspension for returning a positive swab at a Belmont trials meeting on September 17 last year and made his return to the saddle less than four weeks ago.
A remorseful and determined Kirby is doing his best to make up for lost time, with a winner on his first day back at WA racing headquarters, Ascot racecourse, followed by another seven more since.
His hot form includes a career-best achievement at last Saturday’s Ascot meeting when he rode the winners of half of the eight-race card, with his previous best of a metropolitan winning double trumped by the quartet of victories.
Kirby, born and raised in Belmont, is a unique story in that he has no family background in thoroughbred racing and had never even ridden a horse until signing up to become an apprentice jockey.
A self-confessed high school dropout, his first introduction to the industry was during year 10 work experience and it wasn’t something he was overly fond with at the beginning.
“I did work experience with Neville Parnham to see if I liked it, but I did a month of it and didn’t like it,” Kirby said.
“I dropped out of school at the start of year 11 and just sat around being a bum.”
Despite Kirby’s initial lack of interest in being a stablehand, the thought of riding horses continued to grow on him.
After almost 12 months of twiddling his thumbs, he decided to take the plunge.
It resulted in him finding himself under the tutelage of former champion apprentice jockey and now Ascot trainer, Dion Luciani, where he has based himself since 2013.
“I wanted to be a jockey,” he said.
“The trouble I found was more getting into the industry.
“I just went through the trainer’s list on Google and then rang a few trainers.
“Most of them said they didn’t need anyone, but a few of them recommended Lou and Dion (Luciani), so I eventually gave Dion a call and went in.
“I’ve been working for him for about six years now.”
Kirby signed up to become an apprentice jockey after working on the ground at Luciani’s stable for four months, however, there was only one problem.
He didn’t know how to ride.
“I was getting paid crap money for just doing ground work so I thought ‘bugger this’ and went back to a full-time wage as a groundworker until I could progress with riding,” Kirby said.
“I quit my apprenticeship and went back to full-time work for about another six months until I was ready to do jump-outs.
“Then I signed back up.”
Kirby had his first race ride aboard the Brian Rogers-trained Ken’s Business at Geraldton on January 31, 2016 and went on to ride predominantly in the provincial and country circuit for the best part of two years.
With tough competition from leading apprentices Clint Johnston-Porter, Aaron Mitchell and Fred Kersley Jnr at various stages throughout that period, as well as a smaller trainer support network compared to his rivals, he struggled to break into the metropolitan ranks.
He finally rode his first metropolitan winner aboard Vaughn Sigley-trained mare High Calypso at Ascot on January 17, 2018 and, after a long and hard road, Kirby felt his career was heading in the right direction.
“I started riding doubles and trebles in the bush quite frequently and then some trainers gave me the opportunity in town with a few good rides,” he said.
“I was able to get a few winners home and it sort of just kept going from there, but it was definitely hard to get into town.”
Just as he was gaining some serious traction in the saddle, Kirby’s momentum was halted following a nasty race fall at Geraldton the following month, breaking his collarbone in the process.
However, it didn’t dent his confidence or aspirations about his career choice.
“I still knew I wanted to be a jockey,” Kirby said.
“I was flying at the time I did my collarbone, so I pushed it and rushed back.
“I got back in five weeks.”
Kirby hit the ground running when he made his return from his collarbone injury and rode an abundance of winners through the middle stage of the year, however, he began to struggle with the pressures of suddenly being an in-demand apprentice.
With good form comes greater expectation and Kirby says the increased attention was the beginning of his eventual downfall.
“The more attention I got, the more I felt the pressure came,” he said.
“I was riding favourites and good chances because I was riding well, and then if I didn’t ride them well it became a chain reaction.
“It became worse and worse and I just started overthinking everything and kept getting held-up on my horses.
“It was shocking.
“Eventually I started not getting as many rides and it slowly spiralled downhill.”
Just as he was trying to overcome his depleted confidence levels in an industry that was completely foreign to him only three year’s prior, an error of judgement saw Kirby sink even further.
A positive drug swab led to him being banned from race riding for nine months, with the possibility of a reduction to six months if he met certain criteria a small shining light at the end of an otherwise rather dim tunnel.
Kirby believes the misdemeanour was the wake-up call he needed, however, he admits falling out of love with the game at the time.
“It flipped everything on its head, really,” Kirby said.
“I sat the first month out thinking I didn’t want to have anything to do with the horses.
“I returned to stable work for a couple of months after that, then did a month of trackwork.
“I was able to do a month of trials after that and then I was permitted to race ride again.
“The suspension was nine months, but they said it could be six months if I do everything I was asked, do the random drug tests on their call, have good reports from the boss and do drug counselling.”
A re-focused and revitalised Kirby pleased racing stewards with his cooperation and willingness during his ban and, after meeting all of their requirements, he was granted a three-month reduction in his suspension.
Asked what he feels is the main reason for his new and improved attitude, Kirby says a realisation of the opportunities available to him helped the penny drop.
“The big thing was the money,” he said.
“I realised how much money I had been making to all of a sudden how much money I wasn’t making.
“There were a few days throughout the six months where I thought ‘what would I do if I wasn’t riding horses?’, and there wasn’t really an answer because I don’t know anything else.
“It was obviously an eye-opener having the time out, but then coming back to race riding was an even bigger eye-opener to realise exactly what I had been missing out on.
“It was great to come back to it.”
Kirby could have been forgiven for being openly elated following his brilliant rails-hugging ride aboard $19 outsider Beg To Differ in the final event at Ascot last Saturday, landing him his fourth win of the day, however, he was instead noticeably composed in his post-race interviews.
The well-measured young gun says his relaxed attitude is a result of him not wanting to fall into the same trap of overthinking his race-day performances as he was in 2018.
“I just try not to get too confident with my chances now,” he said.
“I just think about the one ride that I’m riding.
“The counselling was really good, and I still continue to see the guy because he helps a lot.
“I don’t think I’ve changed much else, but sometimes you get the runs and sometimes you don’t.”
After returning to riding in a blaze of glory, with his eight wins from 38 rides so far returning an impressive strike rate in excess off 22 per cent, Kirby has clear targets in his sights.
His apprenticeship is scheduled to conclude in the coming months, however, he’s hopeful of being granted an extension to help him land a goal he initially set for himself at the start of the 2018/19 season.
“My boss and I have to apply for an extension and hopefully it’ll start in August,” Kirby said.
“I’d love to win the metro apprentice award, that was my main thing this season, and obviously after getting that suspension I thought I was no chance.
“But with the way I’ve returned I think I’m still a chance, so I’ll be working hard towards that.
“If I do get the extension, I think it will be about a metro winner a week to outride my claim, so that’s what I’m going to aim for.
“I just need to keep riding as many winners as I can.”