By his own admission, Fred Kersley would be “stacking shelves” had it not been for Matt Cumani.
Kersley, 21, was racing towards the career crossroads until a “stab in the dark” decision in 2018 to transfer his apprenticeship to Cumani changed the course.
Like juvenile horses going through the grades, young jockeys also find the transition from apprentice to senior a daunting experience as opportunities start to dry up.
After positive stints in Perth and Victoria, with Lindsay Park initially, Kersley has gone ahead in leaps and bounds with the Cumani “team”, amassing 34 winners and 42 placings in 191 starts.
“I call him ‘Boss’ all the time, I don‘t know if he likes it or not, he’s more of a mentor and role model,” Kersley said.
“I have a lot to do with all the horses, it’s a great team effort, I’m down in Ballarat two or three times a week … it’s quite a hike but it’s definitely worth it.
“He’s very easy going … but he likes you to put in a lot of work and he rewards you for that.”
Nice city performances and wins aboard the likes of Khoekhoe and Future Score, who will contest the Group 2 Zipping Classic on Saturday at Sandown, has only further enhanced the combination.
Despite similar personalities and well-documented racing pedigrees, the cheeky West Australian and dapper Englishman are poles apart away off the racetrack.
“Fred is probably a bit more confident and outgoing than I ever was,” Cumani said.
“He’s a bit more brash and brazen, like, I never ever would’ve bought myself a white Mercedes like he has, he’s a jockey and that comes with the territory.”
Cumani’s dig is an example of the bond he shares with Kersley, one forged on trust and loyalty.
To a point Cumani felt obliged to ask a fellow trainer one time why others weren’t using his stable jockey despite good success at country and provincial meetings.
The trainer replied with a reference to Kersley’s appetite for designer threads: “He’s too Gucci”.
“I kind of like that about Fred,” Cumani said. “He’s smart and presentable, well-dressed, and I think it’s important.
“He was humble and approachable (as a young apprentice) and keen to make a good impression, smart and intelligent, and all those things to me are important in becoming a professional.”
Rest assured as smart as Cumani might look on race days, fashion forward Kersley has not rubbed off on the “boss”.
“I wouldn’t call myself Gucci,” Cumani laughed.
“It doesn’t really get it for me, of course I like quality and things that are well made but without a label would be preferable.
“He can be quite gangster as well … sometimes I‘ll try and get a post-race video off him and he does it in the Mercedes … chilled out in T-shirt with Stussy written on it and backwards baseball cap on.
“I don’t think he’s quite settled in what character he wants to be yet but it makes for a few laughs.”
The bromance tempered this week, however, with Kersley unsighted in Ballarat while serving a suspension for the ride on Cumani-trained Victoria Derby runner-up Hit The Shot.
“I just wondered if he was still alive because he obviously got suspended the other day and I haven’t heard a peep from him,” Cumani said.
“I had to just remind him that while he got suspended we’re still training, we’ve still got gallopers to ride in races upcoming.”
Determined and goal-driven, Kersley wants to build on his breakthrough season and spring on Zipping Classic Day and beyond.
“When I started off it weighed on me (the Kersley name) a lot and I suppose that’s probably what drove me to go to Melbourne (and) what drives me to stay in Melbourne,” he said.
“I don’t want to be looked upon as someone that gets handed everything.
“We haven’t spoken about it in depth but I know the feeling and pressure Matt was under trying to live up to such a big name in England and he would understand the pressure I had in Perth.
“To be over here yes, people know your name, but I reckon they think of Fred Kersley being me and Matt Cumani (him) rather than our grandfathers and fathers.”