Top Australian jockey Blake Shinn, based at Arlington International Racecourse for the past five weeks, left on a high note when he piloted High Heel Lady to a win in the first race July 15 for trainer Moises Yanez. He is set to return to Australia July 17.
While the racing season in the Southern Hemisphere cooled down during their winter months, the 29-year-old Shinn took an opportunity from trainer Wesley Ward to head north and ride in the United States. A native of Kilmore, Victoria, Shinn arrived at the Chicagoland oval June 5, riding his first mount to a second-place finish June 9.
"The biggest thing coming here that I had to work really hard on was my technique," said Shinn, who won the 2008 Emirates Melbourne Cup (G1) aboard Viewed. "The Americans aren't really that accepting to the European style of riding. Right from the moment I got here I've worked extremely hard to adapt.
"I thank Wesley Ward for introducing me to Jose Corrales, a trainer at Laurel Park and renowned jockey coach," he continued. "Ward thought he would be the best teacher to make trainers in America be more accepting of me, and that would speed up the process to help get me more rides. I spent every week there on my days off. Jose's been great for me. Without his help I probably wouldn't have gotten the same support I have over the last couple of weeks.
"He’s a great teacher, and mentor,” Shinn said. "He's a great family man, and he's a very inspirational person. I knew nothing about him when I went there, Wesley just said he's the best person to teach you the American style and help you learn American technique. Not only did he help me learn the American technique, he taught me so much about life and helped me become a better person."
After riding 15 mounts, Shinn picked up his first win in the U.S. aboard Brisson for trainer Wayne Catalano and the Arlington Racing Club.
In between riding at Arlington and traveling to Maryland to train with Corrales, Shinn took opportunities from Ward to work horses at Keeneland and ride two races at Belmont Park while making the most of his time in North America.
"The American style is they're so well balanced, and they don't move very much," said Shinn. "They swap the whip from right to left hand, they're strong in their upper body and they're strong in their core. Tactically they're brilliant. I've learned a lot from not just Jose Corrales, but also Wesley, Jose Valdivia Jr., and a lot of different riders. It's been a great experience and that’s the beauty of it for me—I had to learn the American technique and style, and I couldn’t have done it without their help.
"It's been a great challenge for myself, and I feel I've worked hard and the results have come," Shinn continued. "I think I've improved significantly as a rider in the short period I've been here. You can never stop learning, and I'm always a person that wants to keep improving. I think if you have that view as a rider, it can take you a long way because there's always something new that you can learn every day."
"He is a great rider, no doubt about that," said trainer Ignacio Correas IV. Shinn, who was represented at the meet by agent Steve Leving, rode his 10th winner aboard Correas' Wagon Boss. "Whoever comes into the jockey colony, it challenges everyone else to be better. He has been a good addition to the group."
"He's a nice young man," said Catalano, for whom Shinn rode five winners during his short stay at Arlington. "We gave him a few pointers, and when he went out there he knew what to do."
During his short time in America, Shinn rode 20 live racing days. From 74 mounts, he found the winner's circle 11 times with 18 placings, and $218,829 in purse earnings.
"I would love to keep coming back every year," Shinn said. "I really hope that I've made a good impression. When coming from Australia to America your reputation is left behind when you get on the plane. So I had to start from scratch and prove myself, and I only had five weeks. It was a massive challenge but I was very determined in the short time to try and get it right for my future."
"I proved to myself that I could do it, and I'm proud of myself that I did," Shinn said. "I am a bit sad to leave, but it was planned for me to go home. I've met all these great people and I can't wait to come back and see them again. The camaraderie here is amazing."