Over the years, the racing stalwart has seen some funny and interesting things on the region’s racetracks.
One memorable incident occurred at Mount Isa.
“Wally Mailman was a lovely Aboriginal chap and a legend of the race club and he used to help out as a barrier on race days,” Ballard recalled.
“He’s passed away now, but he was a great rodeo rider in his day and we were close friends.
“Anyway he went in to help with a horse in barrier two one day and was just coming out the front of the barriers between gates one and two as the starter hit the lever.
“I’m not kidding you when I tell he was as white as me when he came back – it frightened the living daylights out of him and he never ever did barrier attendant duties again.
“How both horses missed him was a miracle. I shouldn’t have laughed but I was in hysterics talking to him about that later in the day.
“The look on his face was priceless.”
Born in Longreach – Ballard was one of seven children to his parents Bill and Peggy who are both still alive today.
“Dad worked in the railways at Longreach and did farrier work around the stables after work,” the jockey said.
“My six brothers are all still alive and they were all footballers, so they were big boys. We all get on well, so I’m fortunate to have a wonderful family.”
One little known fact is that Ballard’s full name is William Keith Ballard.
So little known it was that Keith himself didn’t know until he was in his 20s.
“When I went to marry Denise I needed a birth certificate and my name was William Keith,” he said.
“My father is called William and there are a lot of Williams in the family so I got called Keith from the start by my parents.”
Ballard started riding at the age of 16 when apprenticed to Longreach trainer Larry Morrison, but just 18 months into his apprenticeship Morrison moved to Rockhampton to become a cadet steward and eventually finished up in Sydney with the AJC – and Ballard was transferred firstly to John Kelly, then Richie Mannion, both of whom trained at Rockhampton.
He well remembered his first winner aboard a horse called Howzat at Longreach.
“I rode it for trainer Vic Ward and the horse was owned by my great uncle Eric Ballard. Barry Squair rode the runner-up and protested unsuccessfully,” he recalled.
Whilst he has been a successful jockey over many years, Ballard has always worked at another job outside of racing to assure his family a fixed income.
“For all except 20 months when I was an apprentice in Rockhampton I’ve had another job.”
Over the 40 years of his riding career there have been plenty of highs, but also some hard times.
One of the toughest was in June last year when Ballard fell from a horse at McKinlay, breaking his leg and forcing him to spend a lengthy period of time in a wheelchair.
But it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for riding.
“I never had any doubts about returning to the saddle,” he said.
“The main part was to make sure my leg had healed well enough first though.”
Nine months later, Ballard made his comeback and the success started to return.
Needing a further 20 victories to hit the 1500 mark was certainly inspiration.
Now, on the verge of his big milestone, the wily jockey said he will need to sit down and reassess some new goals.
“I’m still enjoying riding so I’m not looking at retirement for a while yet, but I don’t think I’ll be aiming for 2000 winners,” he said.
“It would be nice to get a city winner but whether that is achievable or not remains to be seen.”
Tomorrow, whether he rides his 1500th winner or not, his career will be celebrated by more than 1000 racegoers at Buchanan Park on Spring Cup day.
Few more are worthy of the plaudits.
Just Racing editor Phil Purser also did a story on the Ballard family back in 2008.
You can find it by clicking HERE