Strong book for Damien Oliver at Ascot farewell

Damien Oliver knows part of him will be sad when his glittering career is over, but a small part of him will be relieved when his elongated farewell finally ends.

The curtain will come down on the 51-year-old’s legendary career this Saturday at Ascot when he rides Munhamek in the race that, for this year, has been named in his honour – the $1.5 million Group 3 The Damien Oliver Gold Rush.

It is a climax that has been more than three months in the making, after the final meeting of The Pinnacles carnival was identified as his last day when he announced in late August he was hanging up the saddle.

“It’s been the longest retirement that I can think of and it’s been pretty full on,” Oliver said.

“This week there have been a lot of media commitments, but I do understand the gravity of it and it has been fantastic the reception I’ve got from a lot of people.

“It’s been quite overwhelming at times, but also amazing.”

Oliver started his career as a 15-year-old in 1988, riding his first winner – a horse called Mr Gudbud – at Bunbury, before moving east where he put together one of the all-time great careers.

Oliver won an Australian record 129 Group 1 races, including three Melbourne Cups, four Caulfield Cups, two Cox Plates and a Golden Slipper, 10 Melbourne jockeys’ premierships, 11 Scobie Breasley medals and a place in the Hall of Fame.

The biggest wins have come outside WA, but Oliver is glad his home state is where it is ending.

“Doing the Spring Carnival in Melbourne, which has always been great for me (was good), but to put something back into Perth racing, which gave me my start, I felt that was quite fitting.”

Oliver is teaming up with old jockeys’ room rival Nick Ryan, himself a former champion apprentice, in Saturday’s feature race and Oliver is optimistic Munhamek, a $7.50 chance, can give the 1400-metre Gold Rush a shake despite being set to start from barrier 14.

“He’s in good form,” Oliver said. “He’s a horse that settles off the pace and if the track’s suiting those type of horses then I think he’s in with a good chance.”

Munhamek is one of seven rides for Oliver on the nine-race card with his book also including favourites Captain Pluto (Race 5) and Devine Belief (Race 7), along with other leading contenders including San Fabrizio (Race 2), Yonga Lass (Race 4) and Magnificent Andy (Race 8).

“I haven’t managed to hit the scoreboard yet since I’ve been here in Perth,” Oliver, who has ridden in Perth the past two Saturdays, said.

“It looks like I’ve got a few chances there, so it’d be nice to get a winner.”

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