Bendigo-based jockey Courtney Pace, 26, reigning Victorian Picnic Jockey of the Year was in great spirits when we interviewed her and has some good advice for aspiring jockeys.
How long have you been riding?
Dad’s a trainer so I’ve been around horses all of my life, riding as long as I can remember and doing track work since I was 14.
Was there a specific point at which you realised that you wanted to be a jockey?
It’s all I ever wanted to do and was always about ‘when’ not ‘if’ for me. Life as a jockey is pretty amazing and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Who do you currently ride work for?
I’ve ridden work for Shaun Dwyer for 6 years and also ride work sometimes for dad [Arthur Pace].
Congratulations on winning the Victorian Picnic Jockey Premiership last season. How did winning the title feel?
It wasn’t something that I set out to do. I wanted to ride well and ride winners every week. The Premiership was the icing on the cake, especially given how competitive the circuit is. I was really proud to win.
What was the highlight of last season for you?
I was very well supported by owners and trainers throughout the season. The highlight was riding 4 winners from 5 rides on the last day, it felt pretty good!
What’s been the greatest achievement of your career so far?
Starting out as an Apprentice. To be able to ride successfully as a professional was a big deal for me.
What made you focus exclusively on Picnic racing?
I started riding at the Picnics to learn my trade while I was finishing Year 12 at school.
I don’t have any weight issues for the Picnics so feel fortunate to be able to come back again after my time as an Apprentice.
What one or two things do you currently do that are keys to your success?
I’m my biggest critic. I watch replays with dad and am really hard on myself. If I make a mistake I learn from it.
I’m also very fit and keep healthy; I need to be to ride a horse out from long distances, fitness really counts. I make sure that I’m really polished, neat and strong on racedays.
It’s a great time for women in racing at the moment, with Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup win making history. Do you have any advice for women who aspire to make it in race riding?
Michelle is amazing, she never lets anything get in her way.
Like everything that you do, male or female, with hard work and dedication you can achieve what you set your sights on. There shouldn’t be any barriers, if you believe in yourself then others will believe in you. All that’s needed is a positive attitude.
Do you think that you’ve had it harder as a female jockey in racing?
So far, I don’t think that I have. I don’t consider myself different, especially once the helmet goes on. We’re all in it together as jockeys, we have mutual respect for each other.
Being a jockey isn’t just about the riding, how do you get on with the other aspects to your work, such as building up a network?
I like getting to know owners, trainers and their horses, it’s important to build a solid relationship. I’ll touch base with them, find out if their horses work has gone well and hope that they’ll put me up next time.
What’s your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage this challenge?
Calling for rides and getting rejected is hard. Due to my location [in Bendigo] I can’t ride track work for the Picnic trainers so those who do the trackwork deserve to ride on racedays. This is a small issue though and I don’t find that it stops me.
I heard that you were keen to take an active role in mentoring young jockeys. Is mentoring something that you think would help those starting out?
Some of the younger jockeys ask me questions, I try to give them the best advice that I can. I would love a more active role mentoring jockeys and think that it would be great for them to have someone to speak in confidence to. Some have a harder time than others, sometimes it’s because of their gender, often it’s about understanding their bodies.
How was your time at Andrew Baldings in the UK last year?
It was a fantastic experience, I’d never been overseas before, they were the nicest people and the Balding family were really welcoming.
Did you find that there was a big difference between the UK’s methods and those in Australia?
They’re so good at their horses in the UK, so passionate. It’s amazing the way they can get horses to run first up over long staying trips where in Australia it can take us a few runs. The facilities at Andrew Baldings were magnificent, uphill, straight, you name it. I’d love to go overseas again in the off season to learn more.
I’m really enjoying riding at the moment, it’s my passion and I plan to continue learning so that I can train one day.
My time in England opened my eyes, there’s so much to learn. You can take what you like, rule out what you don’t and make it your own.
Which horses should we look out for this season?
Of the horses that I ride, Howling Wolf is one of my favourites and one for Quilly Park’s blog readers to follow. I’ve won 6 on him now and although he always carries top weights he tries very hard each race.
Here’s to a King is another horse I ride and another favourite of mine. He is tough and also tries in every race.
While interviewing Courtney Pace I was energized by her positivity, love for the Sport and the racing community that she’s a part of. Not long after our interview I heard about her fantastic work on the Picnic circuit as an ambassador for the National Jockey’s Trust, you’re an inspiration to us all Courtney, particularly those aspiring to become jockeys.
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Photos courtesy of Naomi Seccombe Photography