McNab’s season of milestones

By Dennis Ryan

6 Jul 2022

McNab’s season of milestonesMichael McNab celebrates a season highlight, winning the Gr. 1 Levin Classic on Imperatriz.

“I’m in a very good space, I’m really happy with where I’m at.”
A season of milestones has taken even Michael McNab by surprise as the man in the middle counts down the remaining weeks of the 2021-22 season before claiming his first jockeys’ premiership.
“After I rode 70 winners last season I was happy to build off that, then when things started to happen for me again into the new season, I set a goal of 100,” McNab told RaceForm earlier this week. “But now to be on 130, that’s way beyond my expectations.
“A whole lot of things have come together to make the season so good. I reckon my agent Aidan Rodley is the best in the business; I cracked 100 wins on a Te Akau horse and when I won the Levin Classic on Imperatriz it was my first Group One in the tangerine colours.
“That meant so much to me because David Ellis has played a big part in guiding me to where I now am. Those training sessions out at Te Akau and just talking through things with him have made such a difference.
“It hasn’t been just the one stable though. To have the support of Stephen Marsh and Tony Pike as well, that’s huge for someone like me to be riding for three of the biggest stables.”
McNab’s unassailable lead on the premiership with three weeks of the season remaining is a far cry from where he found himself as recently as two years ago. After stepping back to address physical and psychological challenges with just 50 winners across the two previous seasons, his weight had climbed to 70 kilograms.
However new-found determination with the support of family and associates led to a comeback in the spring of 2020 and his best ever tally of 70 wins. As impressive as that might have been, this season McNab has surpassed all predictions after odds of $41 had been offered on the TAB’s opening premiership market.
His tally of 130 is 23 more than closet challenger Lisa Allpress and includes 14 black-type races, equal with Opie Bosson, and his strike-rate of 5.05 is second only to Bosson’s 3.88 on the national top 20.
Premiership apart, McNab’s most telling statistic, however, is the stakes total of $3,531,054 that his mounts have earned since August 1. That places him second on the all-time list to Danielle Johnson, whose record of $3,562,049 when she rode 151 winners on the way to her 2020-21 title leaves him with just over $30,000 to set a new mark by July 31.
“There’s nothing better than money to motivate you,” says McNab, who took on another challenge when he decided several weeks ago to broaden his range as the best means of countering the looming challenge of multiple premiership winner Lisa Allpress.
“Since I made my mind up I’ve been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed travelling. I’ve met so many new people, trainers I’ve never ridden for and riding tracks I hadn’t ever been on.
“Little things count too, like the young guy I met at Otaki last month, the day I got five winners. His name was Flynn and he came along especially to meet me, things like that mean a lot.”
In a career that came to a premature end due to weight issues, McNab’s father Chris was one of the best feature race riders during an era of top jockeys. Across a decade from 1975 he rode 360 winners, including the 1978 Auckland Cup on Stylemaster when midway through his apprenticeship, the same race on Drum in 1981 and the 1984 New Zealand Derby on Jolly Jake in his final season.
Michael McNab was born after his father had given up the battle with his weight at age 25 and is now a father himself. Responsibilities to his partner Maddy and 11-year-old son Carter provide further motivation for a common sense approach to work and life.
“I’m in a very good space, I’m really happy with where I’m at,” he says. “My weight is under control, which is down to a good diet and managing my drinking.
“I have to watch what I eat most of the time, but I can still enjoy a nice bit of salmon and salad, even a decent feed on a Sunday, which is also the only day I’ll have three or four beers, no more of that during the week.
“This season I got down to 53 kilos at one point and the rest of the time I’ve been riding at 55/54.5, which definitely increases my choice of rides.
“It will be good to have a bit of a break some time soon, but that will only be a week here and a week there – one of them down at the snow and the other in the sun in Fiji hopefully.
“I won’t be away for long though. I’ve proven I can do it, so I’ll set my sights on the new season and give it a decent shot again.”