From the moment Rachel King was engaged for two Godolphin runners at Caulfield last Saturday, she made it her business to seek the counsel of jockeys who’d been around the historic racecourse many times.
Caulfield has long had a reputation for its vagaries. Many interstate and Kiwi horses have raced below their best on debut and a few established jockeys have suffered a similar fate.
The thoroughly professional King sought the opinions of Glen Boss and Darren Beadman, who simply advised her to hold her mounts together and maintain balance at all times.
Exquisite balance has been the feature of Rachel’s technique from the time she began riding work for Gai Waterhouse in 2014. Her innate talents and ability to ride at a light weight have brought her under the notice of some of Australia’s biggest stables.
She’d had only four previous rides in Melbourne, all on the roomy Flemington track and all finishing out of the money. Her first was on the Wendy Roche trained Chalk in a race for grey horses almost two years ago.
It was a full year before she returned to ride Lanciato in the Gr 2 TAB Stakes down the straight. James Cummings brought Rachel back last Autumn to ride Encryption in the Newmarket, but also put her on Bandipur in an earlier race to ensure she got another feel for the straight course. Bandipur finished third in a BM90.
Like Rachel, the five year old mare Manicure also made her Caulfield debut in Saturday’s Gr 3 How Now Stakes, named after the conqueror of Battle Heights and Van Der Hum in the 1976 Caulfield Cup.
The thoughtfully named Manicure (Exceed And Excel - Trim) hadn’t raced since April and was coming off a soft trial at Canterbury nineteen days earlier. “She felt sensational going down to the barrier and actually kicked up a couple of times”, said Rachel over the weekend. “I’d never been on her back before and knew little about her, but she felt like a horse certain to run a bold race despite her lengthy quote”.
Manicure flew the gates from the extreme outside barrier, but her jockey immediately dropped anchor when Pippie and Grey Shadow sped through on her inside.
When it was obvious Manicure was going to be trapped three wide, Rachel focused on getting the mare into a comfortable rhythm outside Diamond Effort and Tofane. “I couldn’t believe how easily she moved up to the leaders on the turn”, recalled the jockey. “She put them away in a few strides and was very strong on the line”.
Manicure has flown under the radar for most of her career. The fact that the mare has had only thirteen starts would suggest she’d had a problem or two, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. She was grossly immature as a two year old and has always been a bit behind others of her age group.
Despite her lack of maturity Manicure managed to win a late season two year old event at Canterbury and followed up with another win at Warwick Farm three weeks later. Since then it’s been a case of frequent spells and not too much racing.
In view of her modest profile, it’s surprising to discover that she’s the winner of a Listed race at Doomben and was placed in no less than five Gr 2 and Gr 3 races before Saturday’s Gr 3 success. Her record now reads four wins and six placings for almost $577,000.
It will be interesting to see whether James Cummings opts to leave Manicure in Melbourne, or bring her back to Sydney for some rich mares races during the Everest carnival. The authority of her Caulfield win stamps her as a serious contender wherever she appears.
Deprive, the horse who drew Rachel King to Melbourne, was never a threat in the Gr 1 Rupert Clarke Stakes. Despite having had a previous run at Caulfield he was never comfortable. “He worked home OK in the straight but I’m sure he’s a better horse in Sydney”, said Rachel over the weekend. “He was explosive the day he won the Gr 3 Show County at Randwick. He didn’t feel anything like that going anti clockwise at Caulfield”.
The gifted jockey was heartened by a Group win as the spring carnivals start to gather momentum in Sydney and Melbourne. Her 2018/2019 season was stopped in its tracks when she was involved in a five horse pile up at Tamworth last March.
Rachel, Wendy Peel and Josh Adams all required surgery for a range of injuries, with Adams still out of action. A complicated collarbone fracture kept Rachel out of the saddle for close to seven weeks. She got away to a fly with a winner at her first ride back, and was quickly regenerating her career when a finger fracture in a Gosford barrier mishap put her out for another few weeks.
During her enforced sabbatical, Rachel and her partner Blake Spriggs made the decision to announce their impending marriage. “Sometime next year”, was Rachel’s response when asked for a likely date.
Blake has established a strong clientele on the provincial circuit and his talents are being recognized by some very high profile stables.
Despite almost three months away from the races, the little girl from Oxford still posted 64 NSW wins for the season, with an amazing 110 placings.
She’s beginning to wonder what it is about her collarbones. “I was just ten when I broke my left clavicle in a pony club fall”, recalled Rachel. “Some years later I broke the right clavicle in my first year as an amateur jumps jockey in England. It was back to the left collarbone again when I crashed at Tamworth”.
The epitome of poise and elegance in the saddle, Rachel King has made quite an impact on Sydney racing. In the early days she travelled thousands of kilometres to country and provincial meetings while indentured to Gai Waterhouse. Regular out of town winners slowly brought her under the notice of metropolitan trainers and the city winners started to roll in.
In the 2017/2018 season the young jockey was champion Sydney apprentice with thirty eight metro wins, emulating the deeds of Winona Costin and Kathy O’Hara in previous years.
Early in the following season (2018/2019) her impossible dream came true. She was recommended by trainer Mark Newnham for the ride on Maid Of Heaven in the Gr 1 Spring Champion Stakes, when jockeys regularly used by Arrowfield were unavailable. John Messara gave the all clear and Rachel King grasped the opportunity with both hands.
Maid Of Heaven was having just her fifth start. Her only win had been in a three year old Canterbury maiden, but she had run respectable races in the Tea Rose Stakes and Flight Stakes.
It’s now history that Rachel was able to coax the still inexperienced filly to a slender win over Godolphin’s Aramayo. Tye Angland rode the runner up just weeks before his horrific fall in Hong Kong.
Maid Of Heaven never raced again. A few niggling issues forced her early retirement to the breeding barn, but she’ll be remembered as the filly to provide a maiden Group 1 win for Mark Newnham, Rachel King and her sire Smart Missile.
Rachel’s career has been on an upward spiral ever since. Her unshakeable work ethic, lack of weight problems and tactical versatility have taken her to another level in the last year. She’s very good on a leader and equally effective on a “swooper”.
The expatriate English jockey is hoping she can snare another Group 1 during the upcoming Everest extravaganza. She’s already confirmed her booking for the underrated mare Invincible Gem in the Epsom. Rachel rode the six year old into third place in the recent Gr 1 Winx Stakes and thought she should have finished closer to Samadoubt. “She got cut out at the start which put her one spot too far back”, said the jockey. She was very strong on the line and appeals as an Epsom hope at the weights”.
Rachel has heard unconfirmed reports that talented three year old Castelvecchio could be a starter in the Cox Plate. “If he does take his place in the field he’ll have something like 49.5kgs and there are few jockeys in Australia who can ride that light”, she explained. “I’ve already put my hand up just in case”.
A possible ride in the Cox Plate, a confirmed booking for the Epsom and some nice Godolphin horses in the offing. Pretty heady stuff for a young English jockey who followed the road signs all the way to Tamworth to ride her first Australian winner on 12/03/2015. She won a BM60 on Run Cannon Run for trainer Mark Schmetzer.
Imagine the bragging rights Mark Schmetzer will inherit if Rachel King happens to win a Cox Plate.
(Banner image courtesy Racing Photos - Manicure gave Rachel a Melbourne victory at her first ride on the Caulfield.)