As the racing season enters its final six weeks, premiership leading jockeys Michael McNab and Lisa Allpress ventured to Oamaru on Thursday as the big guns looked to add valuable off-Broadway wins to their seasonal tally.
But after Lisa Allpress claimed two of the first three winners on the card to edge within 14 wins of her rival, the day became all about unheralded Argentinian apprentice jockey Diego Montes de Oca.
The 30-year-old put on a clinic to ride the final four winners on the seven-race card, a feat that will surely make several trainers and connections sit up and take notice.
Montes de Oca notched a double for Rangiora trainer John Blackadder on Silver Cannon (+1240) and Telling Tales (+830), while his rails-hugging ride on the Danny Champion and Kezia Murphy-trained Keen To Run (+830) proved the difference.
The one-kilo claimer again produced a copybook ride to land the last on La Opcion (+490) for Ascot Park trainer Sally McKay.
“It is my best results in one day in my life,” a delighted Montes de Oca said of his four-timer.
“I rode nice horses, which was good and it was nice to win for a good spread of trainers.
Montes de Oca rode 89 winners during his apprenticeship in Argentina, with his last winner in his home country in September 2018, before taking a leap of faith and relocating to New Zealand.
He would later bring his partner Denise, and daughter Emma, and after commencing in New Zealand under the tutelage of Jamie Richards, where he principally rode trackwork as he came to grips with a different style of training and racing, he has headed to Christchurch in search of more raceday rides.
One of the biggest barriers facing Montes de Oca when he arrived in New Zealand was the English language, having only spoken Spanish.
Having made giant strides on the language front, Montes de Oca said the past few years had been challenging to breakthrough.
“It was hard. I am still learning,” he said.
“I started at Te Akau, but just as a track rider and then I went to Taranaki before coming down here to Christchurch.
“I had a lot of trouble with English previously, but now I have improved a little bit, it is also helping get more opportunity.
“Denise and I both work for Michael and Matthew Pitman at Riccarton.”
Montes de Oca believes more South American riders could make an impact in New Zealand but said there are a number of barriers.
“I want to bring my best friend here to be an apprentice but it is a little bit hard for us with the language barrier and the travel can be quite costly, plus immigration is pretty tough for us.”
On the back of his bumper day, Montes de Oca is hoping to make the most of his opportunities while a handful of leading South Island riders are absent, including countrywoman Tina Comignaghi, who is third on the national jockeys’ premiership and currently enjoying a trip home to Argentina.
“There is no Tina, no Samantha (Wynne) and no Jason Laking at present, who are all good riders, so hopefully I can pick up some more rides, but I don’t know what will happen when they get back,” he said.
The well-travelled rider will now switch his focus to the Riccarton meeting on Saturday, where he has five rides including Whale Song for the Pitman team in the Greenwood Amberley Cup (1600m).
“Probably Whale Song is the best of my rides. The track is heavy but he can cope,” he said.