Sydney's two-time champion apprentice Robbie Dolan has admitted to feeling "alone" during his first months as a fully-fledged jockey but insists he's starting to handle the "mental game" in one of the world's harshest riding arenas.
Dolan, who is angling for his first stakes win as a senior jockey at a Rosehill meeting set to be run in extreme heat, has banked just five winners in Sydney this season, his first full campaign since ending his apprenticeship.
Only Sam Clipperton and Bobby El-Issa have also won back-to-back Sydney apprentice titles in the last 30 years, but Dolan has quickly realised how difficult the transition is into the senior ranks.
"When you come out of your apprenticeship you're kind of alone," the Irish-born Dolan said. "When you're an apprentice you're always part of a team. You're in the stables in the morning, you're working afternoons and there's loads of people around you.
"But when you come out of your time, you're left to almost swim alone. That's why I think a lot of riders don't make it. I think it's very important to talk to someone so you're not alone and you have a second opinion on things, like your rides.
"We've been working very hard, and I've had a lot of people try to help me. It's very important not to get down on your confidence when you haven't been riding as many winners, as I have been. If I'm confident and stay cool and calm, I'm sure the good rides will come back. They've started to come back slowly."
'But when you come out of your time you're left to almost swim alone. That's why I think a lot of riders don't make it.'Robbie Dolan
This weekend will prove the perfect opportunity for Dolan to start building momentum leading into the busy festive racing season as he partners Festival Stakes contender Through The Cracks and last start Melbourne Cup week winner Rocha Clock in the ATC Cup.
Dolan has already twice won at group 2 level, the last of which was on the Newnham-trained Splintex in the Arrowfield Sprint. But knows a black-type win as a senior will be the tonic he needs for coming months, especially after abandoning a planned return to visit family in Europe due to the pandemic.
"It's been very tough, but it's probably been even harder with coronavirus because a lot of jockeys are sticking around," Dolan said. "There's an overpopulation in the room.
"The last few years riders have been going near and far for big races, people take holidays, and I know I'm not the only one who is finding it very difficult in there. Hopefully everyone will get through it. But I'm trying to stay as confident as I can to give every horse the best possible chance they have."
Dolan has even taken to working with media ace David Rorison to package up video reviews of his rides, which are then sent to connections of horses he has ridden or posted on social media.
One trainer who will be standing in his way in the ATC Cup will be Cox Plate-winning conditioner Ciaron Maher, who will saddle up favourite Bonvicini in the race. The mare missed a run in the Ballarat Cup and has instead been floated to Sydney.
"Kenedna was a similar type horse [to Bonvicini]," said Maher, who trains in partnership with David Eustace. "She had the bit of x-factor about her and her target was the Doomben Cup and she was fortunate enough to win a Coolmore on the way through.
"This horse could be [the next Kenedna]. She'll make use of the barrier and land in the first half for sure."
Bonvicini was a $4.20 favourite with Sportsbet on Thursday in a market which had Rocha Clock ($8) a fifth pick.