Loe ridden by Lucinda Doodt returns to scale after winning at Terang. (Alice Laidlaw/Racing Photos)
In 2017 a record number of women – eight out of 11 graduates – completed racing Victoria’s apprentice jockey training program. A few years on, these dedicated jockeys are going from strength to strength.
Each year, potential young jockeys apply to the Racing Victoria Apprentice Jockey Training Program and, after a rigorous process, a handful of those hopefuls begin the four-year path towards graduation. In the last decade, around half those graduates have been women.
The number of active female jockeys increased from 16.2 per cent in 2007 to 23.6 per cent in 2017. A string of successful female racing role models have undoubtedly inspired graduates, such as Clare Lindop, Nikita Beriman, Katelyn Mallyon, Michelle Payne, Jamie Kah, Kathy O’Hara and Linda Meech. The growing number of female apprentices are also inspired by the spirit of competition, but what does it take to be a successful jockey apprentice?
As with any professional sport you need to have talent, fitness and high skill levels. Not everyone who aspires to be a professional jockey will realise that dream but with discipline, dedication and commitment, the dream can become a reality.
Lucinda Doodt began her riding career at pony club in Ballarat. While her father has been a trotting driver and trainer, Lucinda is the first in her family to go into the racing industry. She’s apprenticed to Dan O’Sullivan in Ballarat.
From pony club and eventing I started working in a stable and riding trackwork at 14. The more I did that, the more I loved it. Dad had shares in gallopers over the years and was mostly involved in trotting, and I was mostly involved in eventing, but I have a need for speed and that took over. So, I applied for the jockey apprenticeship first when I was 15 and missed out. At the time that was shattering but the following year I applied and was successful. In hindsight, things worked out well because in that intervening year I had matured. Meeting with the other apprentices every month was a highlight of the program. We could reflect on what we had done and go through our race rides. You have to be able to take constructive criticism, to listen, and to sift through the advice to work out what’s best for you. The program guides you and gives you strategies to help with managing weight, diet and fitness. I started riding in town during the program, too, and that was another highlight. I first rode at Sandown on my favourite horse, Pria Eclipse, who ran fourth.
Since graduating at the end of 2017 I’ve been riding in town more often and I’ve broadened the trainers I ride for. I start trackwork at 5am until about 9.30am. Then I go home and go in the spa if I have to lose a little weight before heading to the races. Some days I get home quite late, go to bed, and do it all again the next day. On afternoons when I’m not racing I work at the stables. I’ve worked with Michelle Payne and I also respect riders like Linda Meech and Nikita Beriman. The senior riders and country riders are always more than willing to chat about what you are doing right and what you could do better. I just want to keep progressing and to make the best of every opportunity.
Melissa Julius was the 2017 recipient of the Andrew Gilbert Sports Science Award. She initially thought a career in health sciences beckoned until horses and her family’s racing pedigree came to the fore. She’s apprenticed to Wilde Racing in Warrnambool.
I had horses all my life but completed Year 12 and didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I spent six months at university studying health sciences but realised I just wanted to be outside and working with horses. After leaving uni, I had a series of part-time jobs on farms working with horses and then got a job at Wilde Racing. I worked there for two years and then began the apprentice program. While I’d always had horses, I didn’t know about racing. But I knew I was never going to be content with being a track rider and knew I’d regret not having a crack at becoming a jockey. My family has a rich history of racing. My dad, Geordie, was a jumps jockey from New Zealand and he and my mum, Kate, train racehorses. My brother, Josh, is a trainer in Bendigo and my grandfather, Leo Dwyer, is pushing over 55 years as a clerk at Warrnambool. Mum and Dad are a bit nervous about my choice of career, but all the family follow me and they’re proud.
A highlight of the apprentice-training program for me was being selected to spend two weeks in England through a scholarship with the International Federation of Horse Racing Academies (IFHRA). I was based at the British Racing School and worked out of Newmarket. During the program, I also enjoyed listening to guest speakers from outside the racing bubble who talked about their journey in their sport. I never question the 4.30am starts because I love the horses and the journey I take with them. You need to be resilient and patient and everyone in the industry knows you’ll probably have more downs than ups. You just keep your head in the right place and keep setting goals. I think female jockeys today have a lot of opportunities because the women before us laid the foundations. I can’t pinpoint a particular female in the industry that I look up to. I know they all work hard for their success. The barriers have been broken down for women now and I never want to be successful because I’m a female in the industry. I just want to know I’ve done my best.
Jess Eaton was encouraged to consider a career as a jockey while working for Mick Price Racing. She was named the Outstanding Apprentice in Training at the end of the 2017 apprentice program and was previously apprenticed to Chris Meagher in Mornington, but from mid-2020 has decided to try her luck in South Australia as she heads into the final year of her apprenticeship. She has joined the stables of Michael Hickmott.
I grew up in Melbourne and had my own horses. I did some eventing and when I was about 17 I worked for Danny O’Brien Racing on the weekends as a stablehand. Later I got a job at Mick Price’s stables and I was there for about three years. Because I was naturally small and light, Mick kept encouraging me to think about becoming a jockey. He gave me a lot of opportunities to ride racehorses and I had a go at the gallops and going to the gates and, the more experience I got, the more I got the bug. In 2013, I applied to the apprentice jockey training program and was accepted.
A highlight for me was the opportunity to ride in Perth in the Apprenticeship Series. My horse ran second which gave Victoria enough points to win the series – a thrill! I picked up a couple of other rides that day and got my first metro winner that day on Classi Survivor, and first Melbourne metro winner that week, too, winning at Sandown on a mare called Famelist.
Winning the Outstanding Apprentice in Training Award at graduation was unexpected, but it was nice to be noticed for the work I’ve put into my career. I have had a couple of injuries, including a broken left knee and left ankle. Injuries are frustrating but they’re part of the job. The love of the horses keeps me going. I feel very lucky to do what I do each day. The dedication and hard work pay off. As a jockey, I look up to Linda Meech who’s a testament to the fact that if you work hard, you can achieve results. It’s my dream to be as successful as she is.