Cyril Small and Vo Rogue have been together for nearly 20 years - and both are still going strong.
They talk of “the romance of the turf”.
Down on Queensland’s tourist mecca of the Gold Coast, there is a special romance and devotion that has been going on for nearly twenty years – between a man and a horse.
When the roar of the racetrack beckoned back in the late 1980’s, the combination of a great racehorse called Vo Rogue and the battling Brisbane jockey Cyril Small, became punters pin ups, as they went about the systematic annihilation of some of the best horses to ever look through a bridle.
The bold front running gelding would invariably do all the hard work making the pace when being beautifully rated by his navigator, then just when the pair would look to be in trouble, Vo Rogue would call on the reserve oxygen tank and race away to another victory.
Cyril Small would be the first man to say Vo Rogue has been wonderful to him in life. There is no question that he put a few dollars in his bank account, a few meals on the table for his family and substantially helped his family along the path of life.
But life is a two way street and Cyril Small has been very good to Vo Rogue also.
Today the rising 22 year old son of Ivor Prince and Vow lives with his ever devoted owner Jeff Perry, not far away from Cyril’s place. As this article is being penned,Cyril is looking after a nasty cut on the great galloper’s leg – the result of a minor paddock accident, whilst Perry, who is currently interstate, has been kept informed of all developments.
As a diminutive 15 year old, Cyril Small got his start in the racing industry when a Casino based trainer named Stan Rayner took him on as an apprentice jockey. The Small family have a rich heritage in racing in the northern New South Wales centre of Casino. Cyril’s late father Bob was a trainer and breeder at Casino – each year he is remembered when they run the Bob Small Memorial. Cyril’s younger brother Warren was a leading apprentice jockey in the Northern Rivers before joining Cyril in Brisbane. Weight got the better of him and he trained with success in Brisbane before moving back to the family farm in Wyan. He now works in Casino.
Cyril rode his first winner at his sixth career ride – aged 15 years and 4 months – on a horse called Wunderbar at his home track of Casino, for local mentor Brian Allen.
Small had an association lasting 3 years with Stan Rayner before his indentures were transferred to astute Brisbane trainer Jim Marshall. It was in his time as an apprentice under Marshall, that Small landed one of the biggest plunges in Brisbane racing history, when a galloper called All Rainbows won.
“As much as 66-1 was bet before it started 6-4 and we got the money”, a smiling Small recalled. “I bet you got a big sling out of that win Cyril”, I asked, to which the affable hoop just said, “no not really, I was only an apprentice”.
Small moved on from Marshall to ride freelance when he turned 21 years old in February 1980. He just went about his normal daily life as a jockey, but the ensuing years of 1986 and 1987 would prove special to him.
On the 18th January 1986, a horse called Vo Rogue made his racetrack debut at the Gold Coast with Cyril Small aboard. The pair nearly held up the next race – running 6th of 11 – beaten 11.6 lengths. The horse was trained by a chap called Vic Rail who today Small stated “was a character”, but no doubt to many people’s surprise he also says “we were not real close”.
Cyril didn’t ride the gelding again until his fifth start. Gavin Birrer and Les Harris hadn’t been successful when replacing Small on the then 2YO, in those four subsequent starts. However, on June 25, 1986 the penny dropped with Vo Rogue and he blitzed a Maiden field at Eagle Farm by 5 lengths over 1200 metres.
Or had the penny dropped? He didn’t win another race for over six months, and then put two wins together at the Gold Coast, for jockey Larry Allen. Two starts later and Vo Rogue won at Doomben – again Larry Allen did the steering.
Trainer Vic Rail and owner Jeff Perry hatched a plan to take Vo Rogue to Melbourne, then Sydney, to give him a crack at the best 3YO’s that could be assembled from around Australia. Cyril Small was supposed to go along but he had to say “no”. Apart from being suspended, love was also in the air and on Valentines Day 1987, Cyril married the love of his life – Lynlea Daniel. Their union has lasted ever since and yielded three siblings – Daniel now 15, Braidon 14 and Jessica 11.
In the five weeks period – encompassing the two weeks prior to the wedding day and the three weeks after – Vo Rogue started four times in Melbourne. Jockeys David Tootell (once), Brian York (once) and John Scorse (twice) had been unable to greet the judge first on Vo Rogue.
The SOS call went out to Small to fly down to Melbourne and partner Vo Rogue at Flemington on March 9th 1987. The combination of C. Small and Vo Rogue won easily – thrashing their eighteen opponents by a mere 8 lengths. From that day on, Cyril Small was glued to the saddle of Vo Rogue. In fact he rode the galloper at 62 of his remaining 63 lifetime starts. The only time they were not together, was on October 15, 1988 when Peter Cook won on the gelding at Caulfield, as Small was suspended.
In the next 62 rides on Vo Rogue, Small and his horse would write themselves into the record books across Australia.
Upon retirement, Vo Rogue had won a Group 1 race in three States – Sydney (1989 George Main Stakes 1600 metres) – Melbourne (1989 & 1990 Australian Cups, 1988 William Reid Stakes 1200 metres and Futurity Stakes 1400 metres) - and Perth (1988 Winfield Stakes 1800 metres).
When the judge called a halt to the racetrack career of Vo Rogue, he had faced the starter on 83 occasions and had achieved the enviable statistics of 26 wins, 14 seconds and 9 thirds for earnings of A$3,118,110. He won at distances ranging from 1010 metres (Doomben 5/8/89) to 2040 metres (Moonee Valley 14/3/87). His 26 wins were scored at the following racetracks (in alphabetical order) Ascot (1), Caulfield (4), Doomben (3), Eagle Farm (2), Flemington (7), Gold Coast (2), Ipswich (1), Moonee Valley (2), Randwick (1) and Sandown (3).
The Vo Rogue association led to Small having the distinction of winning a Group 1 race in three States of Australia – a feat only achieved in the modern era by fellow Queensland jockeys - the likes of retired champs Mick Dittman and Brian York.
Whilst the pinnacle of Cyril Small’s success as a jockey was his association with Vo Rogue, he has ridden close to 1000 winners in his career to date.
Like all jockeys, he has experienced many highs and lows. He won the 1988 Gold Nugget on Ancaro at the Gold Coast for Merv Lewis. He won a BTC Stakes at Doomben on Unbid Slam for Peter Blackwell. He once rode 4 winners in a day, between two different venues. On the 19th July, 1997, he rode Mistake and Tranquil Kate to win at Esk, then drove to the twilight meeting in Toowoomba and was successful aboard Luskin Mist and Ace Cool.
Small has ridden winners in four capital cities of Australia – Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth – another feat not many hoops can attest to. But he is equally adept at riding in the bush – way out west at Birdsville, where he notched up a winner on each day of the 2002 annual racing extravaganza.
On the down side, he has had some horrific race falls. He broke his collarbone in February 1996 and had double vision for two months after he fell at Caloundra in September of that same year breaking his right arm, only three weeks after resuming from his collarbone injury. However, the worst fall was on 26/10/2002 and necessitated ten and a half months off. Cyril explains “it was a two horse fall - I was riding a horse called King’s Cross. He went down and Kim Bell and his horse went over me and came down. Kim never rode again and I fractured seven vertabrae in my neck and back and it was the deadly injury they refer to as the hangman’s break. I also had a shattered facial structure and a broken nose – only the quick action of paramedics, saved my life”.
Asked the best jockeys he had ridden against, Cyril thought deeply for quite a while and then named “Mick Dittman, Gavan Duffy and Len Hill” as the best he has seen.
On the subject of the best trainers, he said “even though I had one ride for Gai Waterhouse for one winner, I never regularly rode for the big stables, but I rode for trainers who only had a small number of horses but knew their trade. Jim Marshall, who I combined with to land the plonk on All Rainbows was a good man with a horse”.
“Evan Hartley doesn’t train these days, but he was good to ride for. He was loyal to me all his career”.
“The late Kevin Vizer was normally spot on with his assessment of a horse when he legged you on. I won seven races on a horse of his called Chief’s Mate”.
“John Fitzgerald is a good trainer. I won the 1991 Meynick Stakes on his good 2YO Luau Lover”.
“The late Jim Griffiths asked me to move to the Gold Coast to ride for him. I rejected the offer at the time, even though I did eventually relocate to the Gold Coast from Brisbane in January 1999. However we did have success and I even got to ride that good horse of his - Lord Penn”.
“Barry Miller and I have had plenty of winners over the years. I won a race on a horse of his called Darlissa at 100-1 at Eagle Farm during the Winter Carnival one year. The horse’s name was a combination of his two children’s names – David and Melissa”.
In recent years, Cyril has teamed up with Lynn Paton and together they have enjoyed much success. “We had a fabulous run at the Friday country TAB meetings before Queensland Racing restructured and shelved them. We went to Birdsville one year and won two races and had many placings. Lynn won trainer of the carnival. We won the Lismore Quality with Regulations and won with him two starts later at Eagle Farm. Regulations was my first city Saturday winner for nearly two years. A week later I was in critical care having fallen from Kings Cross”.
Small continues, “Lynn didn’t forget me though and she gave me my first winner back on a horse called Quite Smytzer at Beaudesert on the 13 September 2003. More recently we combined to win the 2005 Gatton Cup with Just Cassidy. If anyone knows how to place a horse, it is Lynn. She does a great job”.
Asked the best horses he has ridden other than Vo Rogue, Cyril Small said he had “a big opinion of the grey horse from Warwick that Les Clarke trained called Untamed. I won two Lismore Quality’s on him. He was a talented galloper”.
“I also liked a horse that Brian Wakefield trained called Hopetoun Star and a gelding of Rhonda Inglis’ called Inglis Gold”.
Cyril also recalled Supersnack as being “a gutsy horse. Pam O’Neil used to regularly ride him but I rode him to two wins – four years apart”.
Regulations was also a top quality horse. Cyril explained, “Lynn Paton and her husband Peter bought him from a dispersal sale. He had broken down badly and was not expected to ever race again. However, Lynn worked her magic on the horse and she achieved outstanding results with him. Had the horse been sound, he could have achieved Group success”.
Now aged 46 and still with the fire in his belly to be at trackwork first – and leave last – Cyril Small’s wife Lynlea is his biggest fan. She probably best sums up her husband when she said to me of him “you see he’s a horseman and a jockey – most are just jockeys”.
On the premature death of Vo Rogue’s trainer Vic Rail from a mystery virus on Tuesday 27 September 1994, Lynlea Small said it all when she said, “Doug Bougoure put Queensland racing on the map with Strawberry Road. Then Vic Rail came along. He accomplished more than the big time trainers. He really deserved to be sitting in a rocking chair and reflecting on his wonderful achievements - in his old age. The fact that he won’t get the chance is so unfair”.
And that’s why there will always be a place in Queensland racing history for a jockey named C. Small. Even when he hangs up his boots, his name will long be remembered as a battler who made it at the elite level.