Losing a stable rider is difficult for any trainer to come to grips with but for Steve O’Dea he also lost a close friend in Tim Bell last week.
Bell tragically passed away last Tuesday evening while on a three month riding contract in Singapore.
When Bell first started riding work at Eagle Farm back in 2012, O’Dea saw an effervescent jockey brimming with potential.
At the time, Bell was somewhat untapped after a promising career had stalled due to off-track misdemeanours.
But during those early mornings at Eagle Farm it was clear to O’Dea that Bell was determined to turn a new leaf and before too long the pair struck up a relationship that would later evolve into a formidable union.
“I always noticed he was a hard worker and obviously a good rider,” O’Dea said.
“There was a time there where I didn’t really have a specific stable rider and Tim started to ride a bit of work for me and it just kind of developed from there.
“He was a friendly kid and he always used to joke to me and say: ‘when are you going to give me a ride? You haven’t put me on one yet.’
“In his first few rides for me we didn’t have a lot of joy so I didn’t think he was missing out on too much. But that definitely all changed, that’s for sure.”
Recent years have seen a decline in the ‘stable rider’ as most jockeys have sought independence but when Bell and O’Dea decided to join forces both of their careers reached new heights.
O’Dea attributes much of their success to Bell’s underestimated work ethic and loyalty.
“He was a young kid and he liked to have his fun but I think there’s one thing you could never question about him and that was he always had a really strong work ethic,” O’Dea said.
“There was a time there when one of my riders was on holidays and another one got hurt and I had no one to ride my horses on a Monday morning and he came in and rode 16 or 17 horses. There wouldn’t be many other jockeys that would do that.”
On May 31 of last year a rampant Bell swept three of the major races on Queensland Oaks day, including his first Group I with Tinto in the Queensland Oaks and a miraculous ride on Sir Moments to win the Queensland Guineas, providing O’Dea with his first Group race after six Listed successes.
O’Dea recalled the ride on Sir Moments as one which epitomized Bell’s unwavering competitive streak.
“On the day he won the Queensland Guineas on Sir Moments, it looked like at the furlong he was never going to be in the finish until a small opening presented itself and he just threw the horse through it to win right on the line,” O’Dea said.
“He was fearless Tim, there was no question about that. A young guy like him, he was just so competitive and strong. He knew on raceday that he was going to do everything he had to do to win.”
Yet for all their accomplishments on the racetrack, O’Dea will miss the friendship they shared more than anything else.
“As well as being a stable rider for me, we were really good mates and I would like to think that Tim had respect for my opinion and thoughts on things,” he said.
“We could sit down and talk about things and sort of help each other out with certain stuff.
“Some people saw him as a little bit cocky but I can tell you he was pretty hard on himself, he was his own worst critic.
“I think that made him the jockey he was too because he would be the first to admit when he made a mistake.
“He’s got to be up there with the best, if not the best, that I’ve had an association with and the sad thing is that we never got to see what he could have been.”