Raquel Clark knew she wanted to be a jockey from the first adrenaline charged moments of her maiden fast gallop.
She was a late starter at nineteen, and had been persuaded to ride track work by her older brother Dylan, who had taken out a trainer’s licence. “After many weeks of trot and canter work, Dylan surprised me one morning with the news that we were going to gallop two horses together, over 800 metres on the course proper at Longford”, recalled Raquel. “It was the coolest moment of my life”.
Two years older than Raquel, Dylan Clark has been a dominant influence on his sister’s life. His love of horses surfaced at an early age, and his family were not surprised when he arrived home one day, with a quarter horse called Cruise. He excitedly told the family of his plans to campaign his new acquisition on the local rodeo circuit.
Home to the Clark family, is the tiny hamlet of Penguin, on Tasmania’s North West coast between Burnie and Ulverstone. “Dylan’s affinity with horses must come from way back in the family somewhere”, said Raquel. “My dad Robin hasn’t sat on a horse in his life, and my mother Marie got on Cruise one day, for no other reason than to say she’d actually ridden a horse. Like my parents, I hadn’t ridden a horse either, until Dylan talked me into jumping on poor old Cruise”.
Raquel enjoyed the experience enough, to keep coming back, and week by week her riding improved. Dylan suggested she apply for a track rider’s licence, and assist him with the training of his team of gallopers. “The stewards came to assess me one morning, and I was still feeling a little uncomfortable in a jockey’s work saddle”, recalled Raquel. “Happily they gave me the nod of approval”.
Clarky, as she’s known to friends, slowly fell under the spell of the thoroughbred. When she finally resolved to become an apprentice jockey, it was Devonport trainer Barry Campbell who agreed to indenture her.
Barry, who was inducted into the Tasmanian Racing Hall Of Fame five years ago, proved to be a key figure in Raquel’s development as a jockey. “Barry was a tremendous help in getting me started”, reflected the young rider. “As my riding improved, he gave me more and more opportunities, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without his support and guidance”.
Clarky experienced the special thrill of winning at her very first race ride, on June 7th, 2015. She rode Rueason for the Campbell stable in a BM 62 at Spreyton, and her ride was a copybook one. We’re talking just under three and a half years ago here. Two weeks ago the same girl, rode five winners in a day at Morphettville Parks in Adelaide.
It was no surprise when Raquel “took off” in Tasmanian racing, and the winners came at an astonishing rate, but her momentum was halted by the most freakish of accidents. She had just left the enclosure at Spreyton, when her mount Lingo launched a buckjumping exhibition usually reserved for the rodeo. Most horses give it away pretty quickly, but Lingo had a real bee in the bonnet, and as he continued to “pig root” Raquel’s saddle slipped badly.
She sailed straight over the horse’s head, and still he continued to buck. He stood on Clarky’s neck and shoulder, and onlookers feared she may have been badly injured, but subsequent MRI scans revealed no serious damage. She had sustained deep bruising and muscle soreness however, and two months passed before she was able to return to race riding.
At the time of the accident, Raquel was in the middle of her first full season of riding, and had an eight win lead in the Tas. jockey’s premiership. By the time she got back, the consistent David Pires had grabbed an unassailable lead, but Raquel did a super job to finish the season in second place with fifty six winners.
In March of 2017, trainer Leon Wells advised Raquel that the high profile Adelaide stable of Leon Macdonald and Andrew Gluyas, had been putting out “feelers” for a suitable apprentice. She quickly rang Macdonald, and was able to clinch a three month arrangement on a loan basis.
With her country claim long gone, she was a little tardy to get going, but trainer John Hickmott recognized her talents and gave her many rides at outside meetings. She rode a handful of winners on country tracks, before finally making a statement with that all important first metropolitan winner.
The date was April 15th, 2017 and Raquel rode a good old campaigner called Dances On Stars, to win a BM 82 at Oakbank for trainer Grant Young. Now a nine year old, Dances On Stars was a Listed winner in Sydney, and group placed in Victoria, earlier in his career.
Raquel found the style of racing in Adelaide, quite different to the pattern she’d grown up with at home. “They race tighter here, and you really have to know your form”, said the young jockey.” My first ride at Morphettville last year taught me a lesson. I rode Pujols in a 1400m Maiden, and I kept running into dead ends. I was simply getting behind the wrong horses throughout the race, and I realised I would have to do more work on the form”.
It wasn’t long before the petite Tasmanian, announced her arrival in a big way. In June of last year, she rode the first four winners on a Morphettville programme - Midnight Storm, Tennessee Raider, Strategic Demand and Galaxy Gazer, with three of the four coming from the Macdonald/Gluyas stable.
Raquel began the new season with a flourish, and hasn’t stopped riding winners. At Morphettville on October 28th, she joined an elite group of Australian jockeys to win five metropolitan races at a single meeting. She scored on Heaven’s Deal, Daktari, He Is Golden, Amberdi, and Debt Collector. She finished second on Royal Ring, and was unplaced on her only other ride. What an achievement for a little girl from Penguin, less than three and a half years after her first race ride.
Singles, doubles and the occasional treble have maintained the momentum, and just a week ago, she swept to victory four times at Port Lincoln with Sheza Prophet, Hetcka Zarsho, Victor Victor and Neva Doubt Us.
Leon Macdonald appreciates the fact that Raquel listens carefully to instructions, and does her best to carry them out. “If the circumstances of a race, negate those instructions she has enough nous to take corrective action”, said the trainer. “She has a good understanding of pace, which is a big plus in races and on the training track”.
Thirteen weeks into the season, Jamie Kah and Raquel are totally dominating South Australian racing. Statewide, the two young dynamos are all but level pegging in the low forties, while on the metro list Jamie leads Raquel by half a dozen wins. The girls have come such a long way, since Pam O’Neill became the first female to ride against the men, way back in 1979.
Away from racing, Clarky likes to catch up on lost sleep whenever possible, and is looking forward to getting back to the beach as summer approaches. The subject of boyfriends gets very scant response. “I’m up in the dark six mornings a week, and riding at two or three race meetings every week”, explained Raquel. “It’s a hectic and demanding lifestyle, and requires all of my attention at the moment. There really isn’t time for a relationship”.
Australia has never seen a better female jockey than Beverly Buckingham, whose stellar career was halted by a horror fall at Hobart’s Elwick racecourse in 1998. Bev won 906 races, including all of Tasmania’s major events, and was the first female jockey in the world to win a metropolitan premiership. She rode winners in Melbourne, but declined offers to leave her beloved Tasmania, where her late father Ted was an established trainer.
Twenty years after Bev’s accident, Raquel has the opportunity to bring due recognition to the female jockeys of Tasmania. She’s just the girl to do it.