Coun­try fe­male jockey out­shin­ing the men

Meet the up-and-comer who is dom­i­nat­ing the race track

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - GEORDI OF­FORD Geordi.of­ford@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

ALISHA Ross, 18, has gone from kick­ing up the dirt at bar­rel races to kick­ing up the turf on a race track.

The Bar­cal­dine-based ap­pren­tice jockey is mak­ing a name for her­self in coun­try rac­ing, be­gin­ning her ca­reer with six wins from her first 10 starts. Her com­pet­i­tive ca­reer be­gan when she was four years old.

“My step-dad would lead me out on a pony and I just pro­gressed to a big­ger horse from there,” she said.

“I re­mem­ber my first solo bar­rel race like it was yes­ter­day. I was so ex­cited about it and I re­mem­ber peo­ple say­ing, ‘I can’t be­lieve you’re so calm’.

“I loved the at­mos­phere of bar­rel rac­ing. Ev­ery­one was so nice to each other and it was like a big fam­ily.”

Alisha’s jour­ney into horse rac­ing be­gan af­ter high school.

“I was a rouse­about with some shear­ers for a while and I just felt like it wasn’t for me, I wanted to work with horses,” she said. “I saw on Face­book, Todd Austin (an ex-jockey) was look­ing for an ap­pren­tice jockey.

“He looked me up and down and said ‘we’ll take you’ and it’s just gone from there. I’d al­ways thought maybe I could be a jockey as a hobby, but it’s turned into a full-time ca­reer.”

Her first race meet was at the Lon­greach Dig­gers Cup in April, where she won three races.

It took her a year of work be­fore she could com­pete in her first race.

“Phys­i­cally my fit­ness was up to date,” she said.

“But I had to do bar­rier tri­als and a heap of pa­per­work as well.

“Lead­ing up to my first race I didn’t ex­pect to do so good, but I had help from Todd and the other train­ers.

“I just had to push my­self and push the horses.”

She also rode in the Birdsville Cup this year.

“I was quite ner­vous be­cause it was my first time rac­ing there. The crowd was huge and it was be­ing live streamed across Aus­tralia,” she said.

“But I had a win on a horse called Austin, so I was quite happy to get over the line.”

For Alisha the day starts at 4am.

“When it’s still dark we run them with the car and once it starts get­ting lighter at about five I start rid­ing them,” she said. “Then we feed and wash them and get the drip­per sys­tems go­ing to keep them cool. We’re al­ways mak­ing sure the horses are all right be­fore our­selves.

“Then we have a cou­ple of hours off dur­ing the day be­fore the af­ter­noon shift.”

Be­hind ev­ery good jockey is a good trainer, and Alisha said she thought highly of her boss Todd Austin.

“He’s amaz­ing to work for,” she said. “He’s more than a boss. I re­ally look up to him and he’s al­ways help­ing me out.”

She said she was one of the only fe­male jock­eys in cen­tral west­ern Queens­land.

“It’s very much a male-dom­i­nated thing,” she said. “You have to do the hard yards to get into it. I started as a strap­per but it all pays off in the end.

“I re­mem­ber at school lis­ten­ing to Michelle Payne win the Mel­bourne Cup on Prince of Pen­zance and it was good to see her do so well be­cause no one ever thought a fe­male would win the Mel­bourne Cup.

“I hope there’s an­other young girl out there who is ready to do the hard yards and be­come a jockey.”

For now she dom­i­nates the coun­try tracks, but one day hopes to ride in the Magic Mil­lions.

“Rid­ing in that race would be a dream come true,” she said. “I was lucky enough to go this year and watch and just thought win­ning a race like that would look re­ally good for your ca­reer.

“I’m in the midst of get­ting my pro­vin­cial li­cence at the mo­ment and then will even­tu­ally go on to get my metro one.

“Once I do that I can ride in some of the big­ger races and get my name out there.”

PHOTO: BRIAN PUGH. OUT­BACK TRACKS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

RIS­ING STAR: Ap­pren­tice jockey Alisha Ross, 18, is mak­ing a name for her­self on the coun­try rac­ing cir­cuit.

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