It’s fair to say Palmerston North rider Robbie Hannam is a glass half full guy. The effervescent jockey has been back at work over the past couple of weeks after New Zealand’s month-long lockdown period due to Covid-19.
The 53-year-old kept fit throughout the month off and like many was eager to get back to work as soon as he could. “The body has been good,” Hannam said. “I live beside the river and there are walkways and I have kept pretty active. “We’ve been back at trackwork just under two weeks and I have been riding a bit of work for Peter Didham, who is my brother-in-law. He’s got a few in work. “I know it was four or five weeks of not doing a lot, but it was just like riding a bike. It felt so good to be back on a horse.”
A multiple Group 1-winning rider, Hannam is looking forward to getting back trial and raceday riding as he does not earn an income from riding work. “I don’t get paid for riding trackwork,” Hannam said. “I ride trackwork to get raceday rides. The jumpouts and trials will bring the horses forward a lot.”
For the month of July, the Central Districts has been allocated five race meetings, with two clashing with northern meeetings meaning local jockeys are more likely to be sought after. Hannam was pleased with the prizemoney announcements of $15,000 across the board and paying back to 14th for the month of July, but he is wary of the competition for rides.
“Everyone will get a little bit of a payday and it is probably a little bit more than people thought we were going to get,” he said. “What will be interesting is we are going to have one day a week racing in the Central Districts. “It is hard to tell how big the fields will be and how many rides you can get. “We’re going to have one day a week for the first month, but what happens if we get suspended? “Previously with the days missed we counted the South Island and Northern meetings if you rode in those areas and being suspended for five meetings was probably one week. “If you get a five-meeting suspension, that is a month of racing you’re missing out on.”
With leading Central Districts trainer Lisa Latta down on numbers at present, Hannam is riding for Didham and said he enjoys helping out other smaller trainers. “Because Peter manages Wellfield Lodge for Bill Gleeson, he has an 800m track out at Wellfield and his horses have the base fitness to return to full work straight away.
“Being the biggest trainer in the CD, I am looking forward to going back to Lisa Latta’s because the bulk of my rides come out of Lisa’s stable. “But It is a good chance to work with some of the nice young horses Peter Didham has got coming through the system. “He has only been training for a year or so and if you look at his results, they are pretty good.
“To have a couple of runners in the New Zealand Derby (Group 1, 2400m) in your first year of training and being based in the Central Districts is a good effort.”
While lockdown was a great chance for Hannam to spend more time with his family, the well-liked rider said he missed the buzz of riding winners. “Every day was like a Sunday but my daughter who is a teacher in Hamilton was home with her partner, and my son, who returned from the UK earlier in the year, so there were five of us here. It was so good. “But I did miss the racing. It’s the thrill of what you really enjoy doing. “Riding a horse on raceday is amazing and it doesn’t matter if it’s winning a maiden race or a Group race, it’s a great thrill.”
Despite being a veteran of the jockeys’ room, Hannam is not looking to hang up the saddle any time soon. “I’m really lucky that I am pretty fit and healthy. I’ve got my wits about me and it’s a passion. It’s not a chore. “I’ve always said to those closest to me, if they think I am not riding up to the mark, let me know and I will give up. But when you’re passionate and you enjoy what you’re doing, why stop.”
Hannam has re-established himself after an injury-interrupted stint riding in India in the 2017-18 season, where he spent eight months on the sidelines care of a broken ankle. “I am pretty happy with my season,” he said. “My stake money was good and I won quite a few Saturday races and was 24th on the jockeys’ premiership when racing stopped.”
Hannam believes racing in New Zealand will take a while to get through the Covid-19 setback but some positives will come from the crisis. “I think it will take a wee time. It will come back but time will be its best healer before it gets back to what it was. “It has taken the virus to give us the platform for change and to improve things.”