Experts believe most adults can’t remember childhood experiences further back than six years of age.
Winona Costin doesn’t remember riding a pony called Midgey on a farm in Cambridge NZ, when she was only three years old, but her mother has never forgotten it. “My heart would be in my mouth, watching her cantering that pony around the paddock”, recalled Winona’s mother Trish. “She had no fear, and her balance was extraordinary”.
Winona was seven when her parents decided to settle permanently in Australia. They set up their first home at Towradgi, five kilometres from Wollongong, but later moved to Berkeley which offered more suitable schooling and sports facilities.
Winona’s dad John Calvert, a former jockey, secured a position as stable hand and work rider for the late Erwin Takacs, a respected Kembla trainer.
His daughter would accompany him to the stables most mornings, and it was obvious she adored being with the horses.
Like me, you’ll be wondering why the young jockey didn’t take her father’s surname. Thirty four years ago, Trish Costin lost her brother Wayne at just twenty years of age. She resolved that she would retain the Costin name, even if she were to marry down the track. John Calvert acceded to her wishes, and was happy for his children to bear the same name.
If genetics count for anything, Winona’s obsession with racing may well stem from the influence of great grandfathers on both sides of the family.
Her mother’s grandfather was Jack Wood, a wily old trainer who got Captain Peri to three Melbourne Cups. He finished third in one of them, behind Think Big and Leilani in 1974.
John Calvert’s grandfather was Larry Wiggins, who’d been an outstanding jockey in NZ before becoming a trainer at Warwick Farm in Sydney.
There was no stopping teenager Winona Costin, once she made up her mind racing was going to be her future. By age twelve she was working show ponies for friends after school. By age fourteen she was working thoroughbreds for trainer Paul Murray before school, and then doing her best to look interested in the classroom.
Despite the protestations of her mother, Winona left school at the end of year eleven and quickly arranged an apprenticeship with Paul Murray. She was instantly besotted with her new life.
Paul’s father, the late Bede Murray supplied that elusive first winner for the pretty teenager, with the cherubic features. The date was April 21st, 2012 at her home track, and her mount was a NZ bred gelding called Piazza San Pietro. The pair came from well back to win a Maiden Plate.
Two long years of hard work elapsed before Winona bagged that long awaited first city winner. Queanbeyan trainer Garry Clarke put her on an honest little filly called Oh So Adorable in a three year old fillies race at Warwick Farm. Winona quickly had Oh So Adorable up on the pace, before going on to win easily, and finally the “monkey was off her back”.
Around this time Winona switched her indentures to Kembla trainer Mick Tubman, who had only five horses in work. Mick gave his new apprentice the opportunity to travel to venues where rides were available. She even got to a meeting at Louth, just under 100 kms from Bourke, to ride three horses from a Kembla stable. There were no winners, but it was a unique experience.
Winona got her first taste of the bustling trackwork scene at Randwick, when Craig Carmody asked her to work a promising horse he had at the time. When finished with Craig’s horse, she jumped on a couple for Gai Waterhouse, and this procedure was repeated several times. The moment she outrode her country allowance, she asked Gai to consider taking over her indentures.
And so began an eighteen month period in jockey Costin’s life which saw some amazing developments. Winona’s riding improved dramatically, her confidence levels soared and before she knew it, she was champion Sydney apprentice with forty one wins.
If she had her time over again, Winona would probably still be with Gai and Adrian Bott. “I wasn’t in a good head space at the time, and I suddenly became unsettled”, said Costin. “Gai and I split amicably, and I moved on. I will be grateful for her contribution to my career as long as I live, and I hope we can reconnect at some time in the future”.
Winona was fortunate that Peter and Paul Snowden invited her to join them for the last six months of her apprenticeship. She got to ride some talented horses, and happily won a few races for the stable.
During her time with the Snowdens, Winona was involved in a sickening four horse crash at Canberra destined to erase a full year from her career.
She regained consciousness in the ambulance, and underwent a pretty thorough examination in hospital. She was very surprised when Doctors told her she could go home.
Trish actually drove her daughter to Canberra that day, and has never forgotten the nightmare trip home. “Winona was disoriented, and was constantly vomiting”, recalled Trish. “I was so pleased to get her home”.
The hapless young jockey returned to work at the Snowden stable, and was actually offered race rides but Peter wisely grounded her.
She battled on for many weeks, with further tests along the way. Doctors declined to give her a clearance, and it wasn’t hard to see why. “Not one day went by that I didn’t have a headache, I got confused easily and couldn’t stand to drive my car at night”, recalled Winona. “I could have slept all day, every day. Everything was an effort”.
She was eventually referred to a Melbourne neurosurgeon, and to her delight was granted a clearance. Her fitness levels had gotten away, and she sensibly decided to ride in as many trials as she deemed necessary.
But her horror run wasn’t over yet. She had another ‘buster” in a trial at Kembla Grange, and copped a heavy blow to the back of the head. Although tests were clear, Winona finally realised that she had to stop completely. “I know now that I should have stopped after the Canberra fall.
My body had simply not had time to recover. I was stubborn, and just wanted to ride”, she reflected.
Six months passed before the baby faced jockey, felt completely confident about a return to the saddle. She had a couple of rides at a Friday Kembla meeting, and rode a horse in a Gr 2 race for Gary Portelli at Rosehill the following day. She was on a high when she arrived at Wellington two days later, to ride the Tim Martin trained Shudabeen in the Wellington Boot - a race she’d won three years earlier on I Am Snippety.
It was Mark Twain who wrote “when ill luck begins it does not come in sprinkles, but in showers”. It’s possible that only one horse in the whole of Australia decided to buck in a race on March 12th, 2017 and Winona Costin had to be the one in the hot seat. “Shudabeen came out of the gates bucking, and wouldn’t give it away”, recalled the jockey with a grimace. “She got me half off, and then hoisted me over her hindquarters. I don’t know how it happened, but I extended my arms to break the fall, and broke both wrists”
Winona sustained nasty, complicated breaks to both wrists, and it was a devastated young lady who received the news that she wouldn’t be back in the saddle for at least six months. “It was a disaster at the time, but in hindsight the extra six months off was of great benefit to Winona”, said Trish Costin.
The twenty four year old has been back in the saddle for just over a year, and the going has been tough. “I obviously lost touch with former stable connections, and this time around there was no claim”, said Winona. “Things have been quiet in town, but a couple of recent wins on Ronstar and Our Rosemaree will help. I’m winning my share out of town, and it was a thrill to ride a winner for Gai and Adrian at Goulburn recently.”
Winona has never been afraid of hard work, and her passion for riding racehorses hasn’t been diminished by the horrors of the dark days. She’s riding work four days a week, and happy to travel to provincial and country meetings. Her constant companion and loyal mate, is her Maltese x Toy Poodle named Oliver.
Older sister Mikaylah and brother Liam have little interest in racing, but can’t help sneaking a look at Sky Racing whenever Winona’s prospects look bright. Mum and Dad are an unswerving source of support and encouragement, and her manager Tony Mark Haining has tremendous regard for her ability as a professional jockey.
This girl has ridden 305 winners, despite losing a full year of participation. She’s been entrusted with rides in races like a Golden Rose, an Epsom, a Doncaster, an Oakleigh Plate and a Champagne Stakes.
Winona is only twenty four, but seems to have been around for a long time.
But then again, she was only three when she started.