Chris Dell enjoys Wanganui Cup success

By Liz Whelan

2 Dec 2021

Chris Dell enjoys Wanganui Cup successZola Express and an elated Chris Dell crossed the line first in the Listed Wanganui Cup on Saturday

“I want to say I’ve grown up a bit now. I’d probably smash out a Beyonce track instead these days!”
When I caught up with jockey Chris Dell on the phone on Tuesday morning, he’d just finished getting his hair cut.
“I do it for good luck. I get a haircut every week at Anchor Barbershop,” laughs Dell. “The barbers here in Palmerston North know me. I’ll come in usually before I think I’m going to win a race.
“I’m superstitious and I’ve been coming to the same barber for the past 10 weeks. I’m putting my wins lately down to that, nothing to do with my riding!”
Dell is having an outstanding season in the saddle. Currently 21st on the jockeys’ premiership, he’s had less rides this season than everyone positioned higher than him, and he also has an excellent strike-rate of 8.17.
And on Saturday, he was in sublime form. Not only did he take out the Listed Steelform Roofing Group Wanganui Cup, he finished the day with a winning double and two second placings.
Zola Express settled last in the $60,000 feature, but Dell never panicked. They made their move at around the 800m mark, saving ground along the inside and then picking a passage through the middle. They burst clear late to score by three-quarters of a length over Motivation.
“There was a bit of an on-pace bias on the day, and she was really the only one to make ground,” says Dell.
“Going into the race, I thought the track might be too good for her because she was three from three on heavy tracks, but Janelle (Millar, trainer) was full of confidence.
“The track conditions definitely didn’t trip her up though. She showed a ferocious turn of foot.”
One race later, Dell employed opposite tactics aboard $30 shot Bear Gryls. Drawn the outside gate, Dell sent the 10-year-old forward, and he led throughout in a dominant display, winning by five and a half lengths.
“He’s notorious for being able to pull off front-running wins – he’s done it before. Barry (Coxhead, trainer) said to me, ‘just go forward from the outside gate and don’t slow up, just keep going.’
“I took that catch-me-if-you-can attitude into the race and he kept kicking. I couldn’t see or hear anything else, and I didn’t know how far I was out by until I had a look around at the 100m.
“On his day, when everything goes the right way, he’s a horse to be reckoned with off the front.”
Dell was born and bred in Pukekohe, and he made the move to the Central Districts at the start of this year.
“My Dad (Kevin) was an owner-trainer, and I always had racehorses around me growing up,” the 29-year-old remembers.
“I’d done showjumping through high school, and then I did a pony sprint at Ellerslie back in 2006 or 2007, which started it all off.
“I rode as an amateur when I was younger and that led on to riding over fences. My Dad had a heap of jumpers at the time, so that worked in really well.”
According to jumps racing statistician Chris McQuaid, he had 18 hurdle rides (and one steeplechase ride), which fetched one win, one second and two thirds.
“I managed to get a winner for the old man, which was on my grandfather’s horse. But then, I managed to get my weight down, there was a lack of apprentices at the time, and the rest is history.”
When it comes to maintaining his weight, Dell is incredibly disciplined. Every morning, he rides trackwork. Every day, he goes to the gym.
“I’ve also got a pretty astute diet,” he adds. “Back when I was an apprentice, I went to a couple of nutritionists and they really instilled correct eating patterns in me.
“When you do everything right, it makes it a lot easier.”
He’s been enjoying Central Districts life since making the move earlier in the year, initially to Waverley, and then to Wanganui, followed by Palmerston North.
“It was a pivotal career move coming down here,” Dell enthuses.
“It was Cydne Evans who initially encouraged me to come down here – I’ve worked for her since I first started in racing. And since I’ve been in Palmerston North, Mark Oulaghan has really taken me under his wing.
“The rest is all me!” he jokes.
It hasn’t all been smooth-sailing throughout his riding career. In December 2014, Dell was involved in a horrible accident at the Ruakaka trials. He suffered head injuries as a result and was in a coma for around 10 days.
And yet, despite the magnitude of his injuries and the aftermath, it’s what he did when he first emerged from the coma that tends to stick in people’s minds.
Waking up with his two best friends by his side, Dell burst into song – and not just any song. He performed Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” from start to finish.
“I don’t know, I woke up with a couple of my besties next to me and thought it was Saturday night and we were about to go out partying.
“I want to say I’ve grown up a bit now. I’d probably smash out a Beyonce track instead these days!
“I’ll own it. I’ve always loved Nicki Minaj, so it was a tribute to her!”
At the start of this season, Dell set a number of goals for himself, but admits that he never imagined he’d be winning a black-type race this season.
“I was very realistic with what I set out to achieve – black-type races weren’t really on my agenda, to be honest. The main thing I wanted was to get my tally up to 150 wins. And now, I’ve had 137 in New Zealand, 11 in Australia and two in New Caledonia.
“I just want to keep grounded, keep my head in a good space and keep riding winners.”