Damien Oliver is a name synonymous with Australian horse racing, a rider that has etched his mark as one of the most accomplished and respected jockeys in the history of the sport.
Born in 1972 in Western Australia, Oliver’s career is well into its fourth decade, during which he has achieved numerous triumphs, faced personal tragedies, and emerged as a true legend of the turf.
Last Saturday’s Queensland Oaks victory was Oliver’s 128th win at Group 1 level, a few weeks shy of his 51st birthday. It’s a remarkable achievement.
Oliver’s passion for horse racing was evident from an early age, as he hailed from a family with a rich racing heritage. His father, Ray Oliver, and uncle, Eric Oliver, were both successful jockeys, inspiring Damien to follow in their footsteps. He embarked on his professional career at the age of 17 and soon proved his mettle with his exceptional riding skills.
Oliver’s first stamped himself as a talent to the wider racing community in early 1992, partnering the famous sprinter Schillaci to victories in the Lightning Stakes, Oakleigh Plate, Newmarket Handicap, and the Galaxy. Later that year he would win his first Caulfield Cup on Mannerism, followed by Paris Lane in the same race in 1994, and again in 1995 on Doriemus.
Like any jockey, trainer, or horse, it was winning a Melbourne Cup, like he did in 1995 on Doriemus, completing the famous Cups double, that truly means you’ve arrived.
This victory catapulted him into the limelight and marked an early cornerstone of an illustrious career, that would see him become a household name in Australian racing.
Over the years, Oliver has amassed an impressive list of accomplishments. He has won the coveted Melbourne Cup three times in total, claiming victory aboard Media Puzzle in 2002 and Fiorente in 2013 do go with Doriemus, meaning wins in the race that stops a nation in three separate decades. These wins showcased Oliver’s ability to make critical split-second decisions during high-pressure races, solidifying his reputation as a master tactician.
In addition to his Melbourne Cup triumphs, Oliver has won almost every other major race Australia has to offer, such as the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate, Golden Slipper, Victoria Derby and Oaks, among many others. His exceptional skills in the saddle and his astute understanding of the nuances of each racecourse, particularly in Melbourne, have allowed him to excel in both sprint and staying races, making him one of the most versatile jockeys in the sport.
However, Oliver’s career has not been without its share of adversity. In 2002, tragedy struck when his brother and fellow jockey, Jason Oliver, died in a race fall. Despite the immense grief he experienced, Damien displayed remarkable resilience and returned to the sport, dedicating his performances to his late brother, including that of his famous Melbourne Cup win on Media Puzzle, where he raised his whip towards the heavens. This resilience endeared him to racing enthusiasts and cemented his place as a revered figure in the industry.
Off the track, Oliver is known for his professionalism, sportsmanship, and humility. He is highly respected by his peers and has often been described as a role model for aspiring jockeys. On the track, his commitment to maintaining a high level of fitness and his relentless pursuit of excellence have allowed him to remain at the top of his game throughout his career. It is widely acknowledged that there is no greater competitor on the track.
Damien Oliver continues to compete at the highest level, showcasing his remarkable skills and determination. His enduring success in an unpredictable and demanding sport is a testament to his exceptional talent, unwavering dedication, and love for the joy of horse racing. Oliver’s career serves as an inspiration to both racing enthusiasts and aspiring jockeys, leaving an indelible mark on the history of Australian horse racing.