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‘Black sheep’ Leigh Roche making Sat debut

In a sport steeped in family tradition Irish jockey Leigh Roche is the exception rather than the rule.

“There’s no background of horses or racing in my family at all,” Roche told AAP.

“I’m the black sheep of the family.”

The 24-year-old is on a three-month stint with Sydney’s premier trainer Chris Waller and will make his metropolitan Saturday debut at Rosehill.

Roche will ride Wine Tales and Quick Defence for Waller and Lubiton for Bjorn Baker.

At the age of 12, Roche contacted Galway trainer David Ryan asking for part-time work at the stable.

“I rang him when I was on my summer holidays from school and asked could I have a summer job because I wanted to be a jockey,” Roche said.

“I got the bug and I haven’t looked back.”

Ryan, who is the father of Victoria-based Irish jumps jockey Tom, gave him his start and four years later he was apprenticed to legendary trainer and two-time Melbourne Cup winner Dermot Weld.

Roche sees similarities between Waller and Weld in their approach to training.

“Chris is more or less the exactly same as him in work ethic and attitude,” Roche said.

In eight years with Weld, Roche has tasted stakes success as the stable’s No. 2 rider behind Pat Smullen.

Australian racing has its pitfalls for Irish and British riders, with Roche quickly learning the disadvantages in being caught three-wide on tight-turning tracks.

Firmer surfaces also provided a culture shock.

“The first day I came to Kembla Grange was a soft five and I was thinking ‘Jesus, this is lovely ground’,” Roche said.

“It was a nice side of good and I couldn’t believe it.”

It didn’t stop him from riding a winner at his first Australian meeting and he has since added two more.

Waller’s racing manager Charlie Duckworth works closely with Roche and says he has been drawing praise from some unexpected quarters.

“He has been complimented by the stewards of all people for his adaptability and understanding of the rules,” Duckworth said.

Fellow Irishman Lee Magorrian is also with Waller on a scholarship for star New Zealand-based apprentices which has been taken up in the past by Jason Collett, his sister Alysha, Danielle Johnson and Chris Dell.

The three-kilogram claiming apprentice has three rides for Waller at Rosehill, while English jockey Charlie Bishop who has also joined the stable in recent months will be at Kembla Grange.

“We hope he’s going to be a leading light in the provincials and hopefully he’ll be good enough to crack it in the city,” Duckworth said.

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