Group 1-winning Newcastle jockey Darryl “Digger” McLellan said he feels like he’s won the lotto after securing the green light on Thursday to return to riding in NSW after a three-year battle.
McLellan returned to race riding last August in Queensland after almost six years out following a shoulder injury from a fall at Newcastle on Boxing Day 2011.
The 47-year-old has been riding in exile in Queensland for the past year after three rejections, without reasons given, from Racing NSW for a licence to resume his career in his home state.
McLellan was given an interview with Racing NSW in early April after his latest application and he received confirmation from chief executive Peter V'landys on Thursday that his licence had been approved.
“It’s like winning the lotto for me,” McLellan said. “That’s how good it feels.”
He thanked V'landys for the chance and said he had lost hope of ever riding again in NSW. He was now keen to return to Newcastle and revive his career.
“I’ve never done it so hard in my life,” he said. “Mentally, physically, everything. Mentally it’s been worse, that’s been the hardest part.
“I’ve got my friends and family there in Newcastle. My kids are there and my son will be a father soon.”
However, McLellan, who has been based on the Gold Coast, has delayed his return after earlier on Thursday committing to a stint with leading Rockhampton trainer Tom Button from Tuesday.
“I’m obligated to do it and I don’t want to let anyone down this time,” he said. “I think it will be better for me anyway. I’ll get going again, then I’ll come back home.”
Hip replacement surgery in Newcastle last November stalled his comeback, which started with eight winners in 49 rides, but he said he had been training hard.
“I’m back in really good nick,” he said. “I’ve just got to get some rides under my belt and I’ll be sweet. I’ll be right back there where I should be.”
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