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Apprentice Liv O'Donnell inspired by fellow tall riders

IMG-7290.JPGBy Jordan Gerrans

Inspired and guided by premiership winning hoops Justin Stanley and James Orman, apprentice rider Liv O'Donnell is determined to not let her height stop her dreams of making it as a jockey.

The 22-year-old is in the infancy of her career as a race rider, making her debut over the last month, and goes searching for her first ever winner at Thangool on Saturday afternoon with a few solid chances.

Standing at 172cms, the Theodore product feared as a teenager she would not be able to make the grade as a hoop because of her height.

But, after conversations with experienced taller riders like Stanley and Orman, O'Donnell feels she has devised a plan through her diet and exercise that will give her the best chance to prosper.

O'Donnell spoke with the leading jockeys when she was previously based in Rockhampton and received tips and advice around what she needs to be eating and what fitness work she needs to complete to keep her weight down.

“It is hard being tall,” she said.

“But I get a lot of inspiration from people like Justin Stanley and Jimmy Orman – they are both unreal riders and they do it week in week out – which helps me a lot.

“They gave me the courage because I always worried if I would be able to make weight or not.

“Those taller jockeys inspire me to work hard and get in and do it. They have been awesome to me.”

Former world champion boxer Corey McConnell, who regularly trains jockeys in Queensland, has also been helpful towards the rookie apprentice rider, providing her with exercises she can do when at the gym.

O'Donnell is riding at 55kgs in the early stages of her apprenticeship and is hopeful of getting that down lower once she is in a regular routine and rhythm of racing riding.

Growing up as a “horse mad” kid in Theodore, O'Donnell has spent time at Rockhampton, Brisbane and Scone in her journey towards her first race rides, before recently settling in with Craig Smith’s stable at Roma.

She was not involved in racing as a youngster, first around horses in show jumping and dressage, before getting a job in the industry when she relocated to Rockhampton for boarding school.

James Orman Next Racing
Justin P Stanley Next Racing
Liv O'Donnell Next Racing

“I wanted to continue my love of horses so I got a job there,” O'Donnell said.

After working around horses for a few years, Central Queensland trainers Nick Walsh and Clinton Taylor got the ball rolling for her to begin riding before eventually relocating to Roma for more opportunities on race day.

O'Donnell has five official race rides under her belt already with three more confirmed for Thangool this Saturday, with another an emergency potentially taking her book to four.

“It was a bit daunting at first,” she said.

“I was so nervous on my first day as a rider but as soon as I got legged up, I felt so much better and just did my thing.

“I felt much better on my second day of riding, Craig calmed me down and I had some good rides on my second day on older horses, who really teach you more than you teach them when they are at that stage.

“I am learning about the country tracks all being different shapes, sizes and being tighter in places, I have learnt they go hard in the bush so you need to be up on the speed.”

Smith has a strong record of producing young riders, Matthew McGillivray and his younger brother, Dan, learnt their trade with the experienced Roma horseman, as have other inexperienced riders.

O'Donnell describes Smith as a boss who does not say much but when he does speak, the advice is gold as he keeps his instructions simple.

Of her four rides this Saturday at Thangool, the rookie rider feels the Smith-trained Last Armageddon is her best chance to grab her maiden triumph in the Open Handicap over 1200 metres.

“He drops back a furlong from his Taroom start and he prefers that, hopefully I can sit off the leader from barrier two,” she said.

“He raced really well at Taroom and hopefully I am fitter and better prepared to ride a winner on him this week.

“I have drawn well with my barriers this week for most of my rides.”