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Former jockey happy to be back on the tools in racing

2 April 2024

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By Jordan Gerrans

After more than 20 years of race riding across the Sunshine State, Debi O'Toole just needed a break from the caper.

She had been around the industry for much of her life and was keen for a refresh.

The 59-year-old had her last race rides in early 2019 at Goondiwindi before eventually taking her sabbatical from the sport by working at a veterinarian clinic.

As many do, O'Toole was eventually again bitten by the racing bug and a few years later she was back riding track work for Darling Downs trainer Michael Nolan.

That led to the former consistent jockey in the Central West region of Queensland taking out her own trainers’ licence.

The fledging O'Toole barn celebrated their maiden victory on Saturday at Gatton as Fast Lady handed the rookie trainer a breakthrough winner.

The Bedourie Cup-winning hoop never envisioned she would eventually train when she gave up riding around five years ago.

“I just needed a break, do something different and get out, as all I have done all my life is horses and racing,” she said.

“I just decided to hang them up, being a jockey, I always wanted to go out on my own terms – that is why I did.

“It is hard being a jockey and then being an ex-jockey thinking about what you are going to do.

“Some think about being a trainer and I did not want to go down that avenue straight away, I needed a break.

Chris Whiteley Next Racing
Defderfy RETIRED 2024

“I am glad I have come back and now I see it differently, there are different aspects to it all.”

Fast Lady was having her first start for O'Toole after previously doing her racing for Kris Lees.

The four-year-old mare had solid form on the country and provincial circuit around Queensland and the Northern Rivers of NSW before being purchased online by O'Toole’s connections - Wilfred O'Toole and Cara Smith.

With Chris Whiteley in the saddle, Fast Lady scored strongly in the Class 1 Handicap over 1400 metres on Saturday and O'Toole is keen to now step her up in trip.

The daughter of Fast Choice was regularly racing up to 2000 metres and beyond under the watch of leading trainer Lees.

While O'Toole no longer rides in races, she still rides track work.

She took a tumble not long after purchasing her new stayer, which caused havoc for her plans to get her to the races.

The former jockey says a team of people pitched in following her fall to help her out.

Debi O'Toole having her last race ride at Toowoomba aboard War Chest in 2017.

“It was awesome and such a good feeling,” O'Toole said of Saturday’s victory.

“We were very happy. There is so many people involved in her to get her to where she is today.

“I am hoping she is pretty exciting and her win the other day was not just a fluke.

“We bought her online and two days after that I ended up having a track work fall, so there has been so many people behind the scenes who have helped in a way to getting her to the races. I am so thankful for all their efforts.”

O'Toole is weighing up a few different options with her mare for her second assignment under her care, potentially looking at a mile race at Clifford Park in Benchmark 58 grade or heading to Kilcoy for an event over 1500 metres.

When O'Toole took her break from the racing industry, she competed in show jumping with former race horses, which played a role in her eventual return to the sport.

Fast Lady with track work rider Kate Patch.

Before Fast Lady had her first start for O'Toole, the trainer had Defderfy run at Toowoomba in February.

While Defderfy did not figure in the finish, O'Toole said it was a special accomplishment in itself that the mare made it to the races as she was a horse that she had bred herself.

Defderfy is now retired and will likely compete in show jumping events going forward.

O'Toole rode track work for Nolan before she stepped away from the industry and is loving being back in the saddle.

“I love riding, that is what I do,” she said.

O'Toole was Toowoomba-based for much of her riding career and often frequented the Central West and rode at tracks such as Longreach and Barcaldine on a regular basis.

She enjoyed success for the Mark Oates barn in the CW and also travelled to the regional carnival of Bedourie and Birdsville.

According to's statistics, O'Toole rode 120 winners across her career on the Queensland and NSW country circuits'. 

Mark Oates Next Racing
Michael Nolan Next Racing