THE arrival in Launceston more than 30 years ago of a confident young jockey from Victoria was to signal the start of a new era for Tasmanian racing.
An old era was drawing to a close, the ‘‘big three’’ of the state’s riding ranks – Max Baker, Geoff Prouse and Gary King – were either retired or winding down their illustrious careers.
There was a vacancy at the top and the new kid on the block had no doubts who was going to fill it.
Stephen Maskiell, who yesterday officially announced his retirement, told The Examiner in his first interview that he had come to Tasmania to be ‘‘the No. 1 rider.’’
‘‘There is no money to be made over here unless you’re No. 1,’’ he said.
At the time, it seemed a brash statement from a relatively unproven jockey who had started his apprenticeship with Owen Lynch in Melbourne and later spent six months with Colin Hayes before answering a call from the then No. 1 trainer in Tasmania, Graeme McCulloch.
But, more than three decades down the track, Maskiell bows out knowing that he has well and truly achieved his goal.
Eight jockeys’ premierships and more feature-race wins than any rider of his era – possibly any era – have earned him membership of the Tasmanian Racing Hall Of Fame and a permanent place in racing history.
As Lee Freedman famously said after Makybe Diva’s third Melbourne Cup win: ‘‘Go find the youngest person on the course because that will be the only person ever likely to see this happen again.’’
Maskiell’s records in some of the state’s biggest races could stand for just as long.
His six wins in the state’s two biggest races – three Hobart and three Launceston cups – is a record, as is his eight wins in the Newmarket Handicap.
‘‘They are the two [records] that get the most attention but I’ve also had a lot of success in the feature two-year-old races, the 3YO Cup and weight-for-age races,’’ Maskiell said yesterday.
‘‘I feel that I have probably achieved more than anyone else.
‘‘I have won every single major event in the state.’’
Best of best
MASKIELL has ridden almost all the top horses to race in Tasmania since the early 1980s.
He rates St Andrews as the best stayer, Conquering the best middle-distance horse and Royal Rambo the best sprinter.
Maskiell has also ridden for all the top trainers, but is most closely linked to two fellow Hall of Famers.
‘‘I enjoyed a great association with Charlie Goggin over all the years that he dominated Tasmanian racing,’’ the jockey said.
‘‘And, George Blacker was my other great supporter – his record in feature races is fantastic.’’
Maskiell also rode with success overseas, enjoying stints in Macau, Singapore, Malaysia and Mauritius.
He has been working in Singapore since his last ride – fittingly, a winner – at Mowbray on Launceston Cup day.
THE 2YO Classic at Devonport in April 2008 also rates near the top of Maskiell’s career highlights.
Not because it was a feature race but because he dead-heated for first with his son Jason.
Maskiell, then 45, rode Brittle Express and 17-year-old Jason was on Lyell.
‘‘That’s certainly something I’ll never forget,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think it’s ever been done before or since.’’
It remains the only time it’s been done in a flat race.
LIKE all jockeys, Maskiell didn’t always see eye-to-eye with officialdom, copping his share of suspensions.
He fought some and won; fought others and lost but doesn’t rate any among his career disappointments.
‘‘I think my biggest regret was not taking an opportunity to ride in Japan,’’ he said.
‘‘It came while I was riding in Macau and I turned it down because I didn’t think it would be fair on my family.
‘‘My other biggest disappointment was just missing out on six winners at Mowbray one day.
‘‘Robyn Clarke beat me by a head in the last race.’’
PERHAPS the defining moment of Maskiell’s career came on a wet, cold day at Mowbray several years ago.
The old track was a bog and Maskiell had concluded that he had to race wide to have any chance.
He circled the outside rail in race after race but his horses weren’t good enough to win.
It led to Sky Channel’s studio host Hilton Donaldson giving the jockey ‘‘a blast’’.
‘‘Who is this bloke and what the hell does he think he’s doing?’’ Donaldson asked.
Maskiell heard the comment but persisted. When he finally won a race, coming down the outside rail, Maskiell gave a prolonged victory salute.
‘‘I think he is waving to me,’’ Donaldson quipped.
And he was. As always, S. Maskiell had done it his way.