After accepting an invitation to ride at this year’s Darwin Cup Carnival, Canberra-based jockey Aaron Sweeney has decided to relocate to the Top End on a permanent basis.
The 39-year-old had a successful Carnival – held during July and August – where he won two features on Early Crow in the $135,000 Palmerston Sprint (1200m) for trainer Dick Leech and Munster in the $40,000 Jaytex Construction Cup (1300m) for trainer Neil Dyer.
It was Dyer, the Victorian trainer who has enjoyed amazing success in Darwin over the years, that offered Sweeney the chance to ride in Darwin for the first time.
Sweeney and Dyer had never met, but it was following a telephone call that the Irish native spent some 10 weeks riding for the Kyneton-based trainer where he made his Fannie Bay debut in June.
The fact that Sweeney had seven wins during the Carnival was enough for him to contemplate a move to the NT.
“It was always on the cards to come back after having such a successful Carnival,” he said.
“When I arrived in June, the support I received from Neil, as well as Darwin trainers Dick Leech, Phil Cole and Chris Pollard, was really good.
“Obviously, winning the Palmerston Sprint for Dick Leech on Early Crow was a thrill – that was the biggest highlight of my career.”
At the end of the Darwin Carnival, Dyer and Sweeney combined to win the Katherine Cup (1700m) with Hettinger before Sweeney rode at Betoota Birdsville and Bedourie in Queensland as part of the Simpson Desert Racing Carnival in late August and early September.
It was then back to Canberra, but it wasn’t long before he was riding in Queensland again before returning to Darwin where he had five rides at last Saturday’s meeting.
He also had two rides at Alice Springs last Sunday, and is back in action at Fannie Bay on Saturday where he has four bookings on the five-event program.
Sweeney will partner Stars The Limit and Glenaureen for Pollard, as well as stablemates Surreal Image and Tropicalia for Cole.
“If Stars The Limit turns up, then he’s probably my best ride on the day,” he said.
“There’s only seven in the race, but it’s a very even race though.
“I’ll give him the best ride I possibly can and hopefully he can turn up on the day.”
It has been a hectic period for Sweeney, who only signed a 12-month house lease on Thursday, but everything is seemingly falling into place.
Sweeney, who started out as an amateur rider after arriving in Australia before acquiring his professional licence in 2013, had made up his mind to move to Darwin before returning to Canberra after riding in outback Queensland.
“I had made the decision to come back to Darwin and give it a red hot crack up here,” he said.
“My partner Hayley Lee, she obviously has work commitments in Canberra.
“She just got a job with the Council and is going to stay in Canberra until she sorts out what she’s doing.
“Maybe in six-months time she might be able to get a transfer up here to Darwin.
“We’ll just play that by ear and see how things go, but I’m here to do what I’ve got to do.
“I like the Darwin lifestyle, you’ve got the fishing and obviously the weather is great – I love the heat.
“The racecourse is now just outside my back door and it’s also great flying down to ride at Alice Springs.”
Apart from the Darwin Carnival, Sweeney also enjoyed the Simpson Desert Racing Carnival and had a good time riding in Queensland at Charleville, Barcaldine and Cunnamulla as he made his way back to the Top End by car.
“I went over to Birdsville and did the Carnival there – it wasn’t too bad, it was a good trip,” Sweeney said.
“When I got back to Queensland, when I went back to ride for trainer Gary Bignell, I stayed at Eulo, which is 60km west of Cunnamulla.
“I rode a winner and three seconds at Cunnamulla the week before my Darwin return.
“I probably would have been successful there, but the weights are a lot heavier.
“The minimum weight there is 56kg, it’s pretty hard for me being 50kg.
“That day I had heavy weights all day, it was just hard to catch those claimers.
“It’s a great spot too, Queensland, but again I like Darwin.
“The good thing about Darwin is that you’re not travelling all over the country to get to the races, which is good.
“In general, it would have probably been wrong not to come back here.
“In Canberra, it’s just a lot harder, there’s a lot more jockeys there.
“Not that I just came up here because it was easy.
“I came back because I was getting support and had an opportunity.”