O'Brien appoints Winks stable rider

James Winks will replace Nick Hall as the rider of Blue Diamond Stakes winner Star Witness in this Saturday's Group 2 Danehill Stakes.

The move for the meeting at Flemington came after trainer Danny O'Brien this week elevated Winks to the position of stable rider.

O'Brien, who has never had a jockey in that role before, said he thought the time was ripe to have a stable rider with the success of the Peter Moody and Luke Nolen combination as his model.

"I've been thinking for a while about having a dedicated stable rider. I am looking for a committment from a jockey to turn up every day to work my horses and who wants to work in as part of a team,'' O'Brien said.

"I also want there to be some sort of accountability and I also don't want to have the revolving door of jockeys going on and off my horses. I want someone to be part of the team who will work hard to achieve mutuals goals.

Winks now has the first choice of all O'Brien runners and he quickly snapped up the ride on Star Witness this Saturday as well as Vigor in the Group 2 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m).

Hall has ridden Star Witness in each of his five starts including a victory in the Blue Diamond Stakes in February.

"I've been tossing it around for a couple of months and I think the benefits of having a jockey on the same page works as it does in the case of Moody and Nolen,'' Winks said.

Winks said he was excited about getting the position especially its timing at the beginning of spring.

"I've done a lot of riding for Danny over the years so other than me being officially part of the team and having first choice not a lot will change,'' Winks said.

Winks' two Australian Group 1 winners have both been trained by O'Brien - Absolut Glam in the 2008 Winter Stakes and Douro Valley in the 2008 Yalumba Stakes.

He also rode a Group 1 winner in Hong Kong last year.

Winks is looking forward to riding Star Witness as he had impressed him in two gallops including yesterday's one with stablemate Blink and they covered the last 400m in 22.14 seconds.

"I wanted him to settle yesterday and get him to relax which is what he did,'' Winks said.

O'Brien was happy with Star Witness' work saying he was strong to the line and had a little bit in reserve which is what he wanted.

Star Witness finished third to Toorak Toff when he resumed from a spell and O'Brien said he was not at his peak for that run.

"If we swapped positions with him and we had of got some cover we would have finished off stronger. On Saturday he gets back to the straight which he loves,'' O'Brien said.

On Saturday O'Brien will again saddle up Vigor and Master O'Reilly in the Makybe Diva Stakes - a race they finished first and third in last year.

"Vigor's probably not as forward as he was last year but he's in good order. I'm happy with Master O'Reilly who often pulls out a run fresh.''

By Michael Manley, to view full Herald Sun story click here

Photo by Bruno Cannatelli, to view Bruno's website click here