I’m a keen watcher of Sky’s harness racing coverage on Saturday nights, which incorporates all races from Clifford Park, Toowoomba. For several years now, I’ve been aware of the impressive strike rate of jockey Skye Bogenhuber. Rarely does a meeting go by that she doesn’t win at least one race, while doubles and trebles are common.
Her tremendous consistency has enabled her to win five Toowoomba jockeys’ premierships, and to finish second in another after spending part of the season in Perth.
Before contacting Skye, I spoke to a couple of people who’d worked with her at the University of Western Sydney’s Richmond TAFE. Jockey Brian Wood, a former TAFE instructor, vividly recalls her first few weeks in the class.
Hawkesbury trainer, Joan Pracey, was a TAFE instructor at the same time. “The things I remember most about Skye are her focus and total commitment to the task at hand” recalled Joan. “It was obvious she is highly intelligent and would make the right decision at the right time”.
My next step was to get Skye Bogenhuber on the phone and learn more about her fascinating background. And, get her on the phone I did, chatting for a long time on her hands free device, as she drove home from the Caloundra meeting on Sunday, where her two rides were unplaced.
This meeting rounded off a hectic few days for the 34 year old. She rode a winner at Grafton last Thursday for her “soon to be” boss Brett Cavanough, who had more rides for her on Friday at Muswellbrook. Three rides yielded only one placing, before she set off on an eleven hour trip back to Toowoomba.
She grabbed a few hours sleep before heading to Clifford Park, where she actually won three races only to lose one on protest.
The dynamic Bogenhuber girl grew up at Woodford in the NSW Blue Mountains, about 90 kilometres to the west of Sydney. She went to primary school at Hazelbrook, and high school at Springwood. “I did well at school” recalled Skye. “Not because I was the world’s greatest scholar, but I paid attention in class, studied hard, and made things happen”.
Her greatest passion during teen years was running. She excelled in cross country events up and down the mountain, and was an eight hundred metre specialist at track and field competition. “I often trained twice a day, and could have run through a brick wall at that time in my life” said Skye.
Her trainer was her father Joe, who emigrated from his native Austria at age 16. Joe trained regularly with Skye and the pair competed under the “father-daughter banner” on two occasions, in Sydney’s famous City to Surf Run.
Joe Bogenhuber was probably instrumental in generating Skye’s interest in racing. “He loved a punt and quite often I’d go with him to the Pub or Club TAB, and watch the races on Sky monitors” recalled Skye. “I always liked the colour and excitement of horse racing”.
When the mountain girl finished school, she decided to enrol for a General Bachelor of Arts course at the University of NSW. Skye made the arduous journey by train and bus from Woodford to Randwick four days a week. One of her class rooms was directly opposite Randwick Racecourse, and she found herself daydreaming about the racing world.
Skye was heartbroken when she lost her Dad, 7 years ago. Her Mother Elaine still lives in the Blue Mountains, and follows her daughter’s racing career by result service only. “She gets too nervous to watch me ride and prefers to get the results later” said Skye. Only recently, she flew her Mum to Toowoomba for a short holiday, and proudly showed off the city that has been so significant in her life.
Fast forward to the Richmond TAFE, and before she knew it, she was receiving riding instruction from people like Brian Wood and Joan Pracey. All of the work was done on a tiny track around a paddock, and she became impatient to let a horse stretch out on a bigger circuit.
“TAFE organised a jockey’s academy at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre at Horsley Park” Skye explained. “I finally got to bowl along on a roomy grass track which had been part of the Olympic Cross-country Course in 2000. I think that was the moment I knew I was going to be a jockey”.
It was now time for Skye Bogenhuber to find herself an indentureship, and it was Grafton trainer David Kelly who gave her this valuable opportunity. David is the son of long time Grafton race starter Rex Kelly, and the grandson of “Skeeter” Kelly, a wonderful old bush jockey who lost his life in a race fall way back in the 1960s.
“For the first six months I didn’t even get on a horse”, lamented Skye, “I did nothing but work on the ground and I was getting pretty frustrated. At last I got to ride slow work on an old mare called Blossom. She had been a failure as a racehorse, and was used to ‘school’ new kids. Finally David Kelly agreed to let Skye gallop Blossom with a companion, on the inside grass.
“I still don’t know what happened but suddenly Blossom got a bee in the bonnet, and took off with me” said Skye. “I went a full lap further than I should have, and Mr. Kelly was not happy”. With a distinct lack of track gallops coming her way, Skye decided to have her indentures transferred to trainer Ray Dart, who had a small team in work in Brisbane.
Jockey Bogenhuber travelled 478kms to Monto in April 2005 for her first race ride on the eleven year old Spirit Breaker. The veteran beat one home and the jockey was well satisfied.
Ray Dart provided Skye with her magic moment when he sent Not A Blunder to Esk in May 2005. At only her ninth ride,jockey Bogenhuber was in disbelief as Not A Blunder got home by half a length in a 1200 metre Class 2.
Skye’s finances were in a sorry state at that time of her life and she would go anywhere to earn a riding fee. “I was absolutely destitute. I had an old pair of race day riding boots given to me in Grafton by David Kelly. I had to use them for track work in Brisbane, because I couldn’t afford a pair of heavier boots”, reflected Skye.
Young Bogenhuber travelled far and wide in pursuit of an income. She rode at Beaudesert, Esk, Monto, Eidsvold, Roma, Charleville and Chinchilla, where on one occasion, she won four races. “I rode for a long time against those tough, hardened old bush jockeys who knew every trick in the book”, said Skye.
“I learned how to look after myself in those early years”.
Eventually Ray Dart organised to have Skye’s papers transferred to Tony Gollan, then training at Toowoomba. “I was excited at first but after a while I became quite unhappy”, reflected Skye. “It was bitterly cold, I had no friends there, and one of Tony Gollan’s horses pelted me halfway to Chinchilla one morning”. But in typical Bogenhuber fashion she picked herself up,and proceeded to work even harder. Her talents were gradually acknowledged by local trainers, and it wasn’t long before they realised they had amongst them, a very, very good jockey.
One trainer tremendously impressed by Skye’s talents is Brett Cavanough, who’s training out of Toowoomba while his new stables are being completed at Scone. Brett decided to give Skye the opportunity she’d been hoping for, when he entrusted her with the prized ride on The Monstar in the Group 2 Moreton Cup on the Sunshine Coast,
June 2. That win earned “the Maid of the Mountain”, her first ever Group One ride. She partnered The Monstar in the famous Stradbroke Handicap, and although out of a place, Skye was overwhelmed by the whole experience.
Her decision to head to Western Australia for a six month stint last year, surprised friends and her Toowoomba racing contacts. Starting from scratch, she earned enough recognition to ride 22 winners, and looks back on the exercise as a good learning curve. She also got to meet one of her racing heroes, William Pike, whose riding career is soaring to lofty heights. “Because we race at night in Toowoomba I was frequently getting to watch the later races in Perth on the jockeys room monitor”, explained Skye.
“I started to follow William’s progress and could see he was a budding superstar. I had several conversations with him in Perth, and found him to be a young man of immense humility. I am a great fan”.
Every ounce of Skye’s famous resolve was needed to help her get over the injuries sustained in the most freakish of accidents, at Gatton trials in July 2008. She had just won the last trial of the day on the Tony Gollan trained Mindil Beach by almost 9 lengths. She’d already won three races on the gelding and was looking forward to his return. Skye was easing the horse down after passing the post, when the unthinkable happened. A tractor, towing the starting gates back around the track was suddenly directly in front of Skye and Mindil Beach. “The horse freaked out as you’d expect, and looked like he was going to jump the outside fence. He changed his mind, pulled up suddenly and hurled me into the tractor, and that’s the last I remember”, explained the jockey.
Skye was knocked out, and sustained serious liver and kidney damage, and several broken ribs. There was a very real fear that she may lose a kidney, but Doctors decided against that course of action. “Thank God they did”, said Skye this week. “The damaged kidney has made a full recovery and I have no legacy of the trauma.”
There have been many highs to offset that devastating low. The winners have flowed freely, and include the historic Weetwood Hcp/Toowoomba Cup double in 2013, on Miss Imagica and Bang On. No female jockey had previously won the Weetwood, or the big double.
Skye lives in one of the two houses she owns in Toowoomba. Her best mate and confidant is a little Jack Russell called Rory, who is the undisputed “Top Dog” around the place.
Rory doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about to get a transfer to Scone(NSW), where his best friend is taking up a stable retainer with Brett Cavanough. “I’m a little nervous about the move, but it’s something I have to try”, said Skye. “I’m hoping my light weight will bring me plenty of opportunities”.
Skye walks around at only 49-50 kilos, and can eat whatever she likes. She told me something during the week, which can only incite jealousy among fellow riders. “I love my coffee and banana bread after trackwork, and I’m crazy about chocolate”, boasted jockey Bogenhuber. I get stuck into the ice cream from time to time, and once in a while I allow myself a meat pie”.
Skye Bogenhuber has 590 winners on her CV, and is hungry for more. She hasn’t regretted for one heartbeat, the decision she made on the fateful day she gazed across High Street to historic Randwick.