BY SARAH MARINOS
A MOVE TO MELBOURNE AT THE START OF THE YEAR HAS BROUGHT EVEN MORE SUCCESS FOR LEADING FEMALE JOCKEY, JAMIE KAH.
It took time for Jamie Kah to leave her Adelaide home but weeks after she made the move to Melbourne, she achieved a lifelong goal. In March at Flemington, Jamie won her first Group 1 race aboard Harlem in the $1.5 million TAB Australian Cup (2000m).
“Wanting a Group 1 win was a big reason why I moved. I don’t want to race forever, and I wanted to achieve that before I retire,” says Jamie, 23.
“But when it happened, I was speechless. I still don’t think it has sunk in because I never imagined it would be possible. It’s a weight off my shoulders because I don’t have to chase that goal anymore.”
Since she began her career, Jamie has enjoyed a series of successes. During the first six months of her apprenticeship, she rode 40 winners. In her first full season in 2012/13, she won the Adelaide Jockeys’ Premiership. By the time she blew out the candles on her 18th birthday cake, she had 163 wins. During the 2016/17 season, Jamie rode in 665 races in her home state and secured 53 city wins. The following season she notched up 63 victories.
But she is modest about her achievements.
“I’m very humbled by the support and opportunities I get, and you’re only as good as the horse you are riding,” she says.
Jamie’s parents, John and Karen, are former Olympic speed skaters who raised their daughter on a 200-acre property outside Adelaide. Horses were always part of the family.
“I grew up on horses. At 18 months old, Mum would lead me around on a miniature pony while my friend from daycare was pushed along in a pram,” laughs Jamie.
She began showjumping and competing for Australia in the Mounted Games, where riders tackle a series of events on ponies. She was Australia’s Under-12 champion on her beloved pony, Bessie, and won a series of national and international Mounted Games titles.
“I think I’m quite different to a lot of jockeys in Melbourne because they’ve been brought up with racing,” she says.
“I just ride the horse based on how it is feeling. I jump out the gates and let the horse show me where they want to sit and where they want to travel. I keep the horse as balanced as possible and I try and get the best out of the horse before going to the whip.”
Jamie switched to racing at 14 after she got a part-time job at the stables of trainer, John Macmillan.
“When I got the job, Mum said she didn’t want me racing. But then I had my first gallop at Gawler racetrack one morning and the adrenalin rush was amazing. I’d never experienced anything like it. I was hooked,” recalls Jamie.
“Mum and Dad were a bit concerned but they’ve always been by my side. Dad loves coming to the races and pretending he knows what he’s talking about when he discusses racehorses!”
Asked to pick career highlights so far, Jamie nominates her second win on Arthurian Legend, a horse her parents owned. Her first listed winner for Macmillan on Boristar is also special.
“John was crying because he was so proud. That was an awesome day,” she says.
“My first Group 3 winner at Caulfield on Sistine Demon is also special. I was an apprentice to Mick Price then and I came into the mounting yard after the race and Mum was bawling her eyes out.”
But the competitive profession also brings challenges and Jamie took a much-needed break from racing in 2015.
“You cop abuse from punters and at that time I wasn’t ready for that pressure. Plus, my friends were finishing high school and travelling, and I wanted to see the world and grow up,” she explains.
“I stayed at my cousin’s place in Holland and rode showjumpers and I went to England and rode some trackwork for Jeremy Gask and did some gallops and I fell in love with the sport again. But sometimes you have to take a break because there are always pressures. Now I accept that a ride won’t always work out the way you want it to. If I have a bad day I’ll go and ride my own horse and focus on getting ready for the next race.”
Jamie’s week is a mix of trackwork for Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young and riding for trainers including Andrew Noblet, Clinton McDonald, David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig. For the foreseeable future, she will remain in Melbourne where she has been sharing a home with fellow jockey, Nikita Beriman. The home she built with her father will have to wait.
“I built a double-storey log cabin-style home with paddocks, an arena and a stable complex. I miss not having my horses on my doorstep, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to get homesick,” says Jamie.
She sees plenty of opportunities ahead and, as she is paving the way for the next generation, Jamie appreciates the pioneers who raced before her.
“So many amazing females have come through the ranks and made it easier for me. There are a lot of good female apprentices coming through and I think the standard of riders is getting better and better and trainers are recognizing that. If you’re good enough, they will give you a ride,” she says.
“This spring, I’d love to pick up a ride in the Lexus Melbourne Cup – that would be another thing to tick off the list. And another Group 1 winner would also be great …”