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Sam Collett's special journey to International Women’s Day 2024

1 March 2024

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By Andrew Smith

There’s an obvious choice when Samantha Collett is asked who the women in racing are that inspire her the most.

The jockey’s mum Trudy Thornton, who is also a hoop, is still a regular on the Queensland provincial circuit at 60 years of age.

But Collett is keen to celebrate the achievements of all females across the industry, in the build up to International Women’s Day 2024 on Friday, March 8.

“Obviously my Mum has been a massive inspiration to me - I saw her not only raise myself but also my sister and my brother at an older stage in life and have a very successful career too,” Collett said.

“But I don’t want to single out any woman as such because I think any female who is willing to work hard to put themselves in a pretty male-dominated industry, they are an inspiration to me.

“I think it’s really important that we celebrate International Women’s Day as an industry because obviously going through the years women have had to work really hard to establish themselves as we are now.

“As you can see obviously there’s a lot more women prominent in the jockey’s ranks but it hasn’t been easy, so I think it’s a real credit for the women that have come before us paving the way for the opportunities that we’re getting now.”

The 33-year-old has been riding for 16 seasons since kicking off her career in her home country of New Zealand, before relocating to Queensland in 2021.

Collett grew up in a family firmly entrenched within the racing industry, with dad Jim also a leading jockey and cousins Jason and Alysha well-established hoops in Sydney.

During her time in the saddle, Collett says she’s seen a massive amount of change for female riders.

“There’s obviously been a lot more female apprentices come through the ranks since I’ve been riding,” Collett said.

“They’re getting a lot more opportunities and probably being natural lightweights and I guess too in terms of women having children and things like that, it seems to be something that everyone is doing later in life now.

Samantha Collett Next Racing
Trudy Thornton Next Racing
Sam Collett with mum Trudy.

“Maybe it’s got something to do with our careers being a little bit longer in the saddle - there’s not as many women heading down that route as early as there was in the past.

“I do think what we offer as women, to the industry and more so from a riding perspective is so many of us have come from an equestrian background.

“I do think that it may not be a strength thing but I do think the horsemanship or the horsewomanship that comes through with it -  the more compassion, the understanding, the feedback we can give is great.”

A three-time Group 1 winner, Collett has two Auckland Cups to her name, as well as a victory in the 2020 edition of the Group 1 Levin Classic, held at Trentham just outside Wellington.

She is grateful to be making her mark in one of the few professional sports around the world where men and women compete equally in the same arena.

“I think it’s something we probably take for granted I guess - you see so many female professional athletes that are not on the same pay as the men and it’s something that I’ve never thought anything of because we’ve always been on the same pay,” Collett said.

“You’re getting followed around by an ambulance, it’s a fairly high-risk sport so I would expect nothing less.

“I think it’s a precedent that we’re setting as an industry too that many other sports can follow along.

“There’s going to be some really tough days in there and there’s certainly been days where I’ve contemplated when things get tough why I’m doing it.

“But it’s my love for the horse and for the job I’m doing I’m essentially getting paid what I always wanted to do when I was a little girl and that’s ride horses.”

Sam Collett after riding Iron Grace to a win at Eagle Farm.

Collett will head to Townsville next week to be part of Cluden Park's International Women's Day 2024 festivities.

The jockey will saddle up for all seven races on the card, including the International Women's Day Maiden Handicap over 1000m.

She will also share insights from her journey and experiences in the racing world as part of special function in the Raceview Room.

All ticket proceeds from the event will be donated to Mater Chicks in Pink to further their work supporting women with breast cancer.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to come and support the sport and support women in racing,” Collett said.

“I can’t be a strong enough advocate for the industry itself and the opportunity it’s presented me and the people I’ve met along the way, and I think the more people we can get involved in the industry the better.

“The industry doesn’t survive without the support of the country and provincial meetings…there’s a different vibe around those kind of race meetings, for me it always feel a little bit more wholesome.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to head up there and have a chat and represent the women on International Women’s Day and hopefully I can kick home a winner or two.”

Collett is still basking in the glow of achieving her own personal milestone, reaching the magical 1000 career win mark on Deb’s Ellie in Rockhampton in April last year.

That elite club also includes father Jim (who reached the mark 30 years ago) and mother Trudy who is still riding winners around the Sunshine State.

Sam and Jim Collett.

“I’m almost certain I don’t think it’s been done anywhere around the world yet - I know it’s been done by Danielle Johnson and her dad, but never the father-mother-daughter thing,” Collett said.

“I left New Zealand on about 890 winners…so we knew it was going to happen, was hoping it wouldn’t take too long but it’s nice to look back and reflect and know that it’s something that not everyone gets to achieve.”

“I never thought I would get to the point where a thousand winners is something I would consider attainable…it’s something I’ll forever be proud of, I know my Mum and Dad were extremely proud of that achievement.

“Dad had a fantastic and extremely successful career at home and internationally, and also Mum who’s obviously still riding - she’s absolutely incredible.”

As for whether the incredible 2000 winner mark is on the radar, Collett is not ruling anything out.

“If I can ride more than Dad - I think he’s on about 1600 - so have a few more years of riding before I get to that I reckon,” she said.

“I think my next big goal is to potentially ride a Group 1 winner here in Australia but I’ve achieved a lot in my career and I’m very grateful for the lifestyle it’s given me and the opportunities that have presented themselves.

“I think while I’m still riding and enjoying it that’s pretty much the satisfaction I get from here going forward.”

Click here for more information on Cluden Park’s International Women’s Day festivities.

Sam Collett winning on Johnny Rocker at Eagle Farm.