By Kobie O'Brien
It's 6am on a Monday morning in the country town of Barcaldine.
Apprentice jockey Alisha McDonell has given up her public holiday to work in the stables and gallop horses, while her boss and trainer Todd Austin has a well-deserved day off.
This dedication and willingness to succeed has contributed to McDonell enjoying a stellar begin to her racing career, producing a whopping six winners and three minor places from just 10 rides.
Eighteen-year-old McDonell looked a seasoned professional when streaking to a 1.25 length victory in her first ever ride aboard the Todd Austin-trained Tyranny. Her balanced sit and obvious horsemanship was something that caught the eye of the trainer very early on.
McDonnell recalled how she began her apprenticeship with the ex-jockey and Group 1-placed Playtime’s trainer through a strong background in riding and a love for the animal.
“I started off sprint racing with Jason and Kristy Coveny, they had horses in Taroom and Mount Isa sprint races, so I started off there,” McDonnell said.
“I was looking for something a little bit faster and I actually think Todd and Toni (Austin) saw it over Facebook and luckily enough they were looking for an apprentice, and yeah, I started off with Todd then.”
McDonnell’s career seemed to have flourished before it even began when the young star was offered an opportunity too good to refuse with Sunshine Coast-based trainer Kristie Clark-Peoples.
It was a move that saw her supported by some of the best in the business, as the Barcaldine girl was riding track-work and barrier trials at Sunshine Coast and Deagon.
“I met Kristie and Dave at Birdsville, they liked the way I ride so I asked if I wanted to go down during the off-season out here," she said.
It was an experience McDonell may very well look back on forever, receiving plenty of valuable advice from legendary rider Jeff Lloyd.
“Definitely trialling against Jeff Lloyd and Damian Browne was one of the highlights of being down there, they taught me a lot,” she said.
“One thing I can take away from Jeff Lloyd is that he told me patience is everything on a horse.”
Though getting off to such an electric start to a potentially long and successful career, McDonell remains humble and focused.
With the big country races the first thing coming to mind, the long-term ambition of moving away from home and pursuing dreams may be the deciding factor of just how far the girl from central west Queensland can go.
“I’ve definitely got my eye on the prize of the Alpha Cup and Birdsville Cup this year” She said.
“I’d love to take out a couple on Todd’s horse Super Chic if she’s mended by then, she’ll go to Birdsville and Alpha.”
Focusing more locally for now, however, McDonell says there is one feature race in Queensland she’d like to win more than any other.
"I’d definitely like to have a crack at the Magic Millions 2YO classic, I remember hearing about Luke Tarrant when he started off on fire and he went on to win that race,” she said.
McDonell insists she remains focused on the job at hand with plenty of rides at Saturday’s Longreach meet as well as a full book of rides for Charters Towers on Sunday.
McDonell has been an ATM for punters thus far, her partnership with trainer Todd Austin among the most prolific in the country based on strike-rate.
Losing her 4kg claim after just two meets with back-to-back trebles, one would think McDonell will gain a provincial licence sooner rather than later with the rookie showing no signs of nerve or pressure just yet.