By Andrew Adermann
Jockey Celebration Day will be recognised at racetracks across the country this Saturday.
The day celebrates the contribution that both former and current jockeys have made to the thoroughbred racing industry and commemorates those jockeys who have lost their lives in riding accidents.
Race meetings around Australia will pause to observe a minute silence in honour of jockeys who have lost their lives in races, followed by a prayer for safety as the new season begins led by the Australian Racing Christian Chaplaincy.
In Queensland, the celebration will be held at all meets; Aquis Park Gold Coast, Atherton, Charleville, Eagle Farm, Mount Isa, Nanango and Toowoomba.
The day is held on the first Saturday in August annually, and is an initiative of the National Jockeys Trust and the Australian Jockeys Association.
This year marks the 16th anniversary of Jockey Celebration Day and of the National Jockeys Trust itself.
Since 2004, the NJT has provided more than $4.5 million in assistance to more than 400 jockeys and the families of jockeys that have lost their lives.
Pam O’Neill has been a part of the Queensland Jockey Association since 1979, and now serves as its co-director under the national body.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s celebration, O’Neill wants the entire racing industry to support the objectives of Jockey Celebration Day by recognising the work of former and current jockeys, as well as those lost.
“The day is all about celebrating the achievements of former and current jockeys, as well as those who have lost their lives,” O’Neill said.
“It’s also about raising awareness for the National Jockey Trust, who provide assistance to the families of around 450 jockeys who have passed away.”
During a stellar riding career, O’Neill piloted upwards of 400 winners including a month-long stint in Japan in 1980 which landed her three winners.
She was also instrumental in campaigning for the right to ride alongside her male counterparts, and was finally granted a licence in 1979 at the age of 34.
Now as an administrator, she continues to campaign for the rights of hoops across the state to ensure their work environment is as safe as possible.
“I think it’s vitally important to have organisations like the Australian Jockey Association National Jockeys Trust there to support today’s riders,” she said.
“We are always trying to support our jockeys, whether it’s higher riding fees or better conditions for them.
“Approximately 200 riders are injured each year on Australian racetracks, with something like 500 falls annually.
“We are always there to look after the families of those affected financially, and the Trust is always there to call on when jockeys face any hardship.”
Apprentice jockey Baylee Nothdurft reaffirmed the importance of a jockey support network after he recently suffered a broken jaw during a trackwork accident.
Nothdurft was concluding his morning work when his mount became spooked by another horse walking towards them, whipping around and causing the hoop to fall and get caught between the filly’s back legs.
While on the ground, the horse kicked out and collected the jockey in the jaw causing a clean break.
“The jaw is alright now, everything went well in surgery so it’s just the recovery time now,” Nothdurft said.
“I go back to the doctor in early September so hopefully he clears me then to ride, and then it will be trackwork, some jump outs and trials before getting back to racing.
“Without the jockey associations, it makes everything a lot harder; they do a lot for us so having their support there – not just for injuries but for every aspect of racing really – helps everyone.
“They were the first to contact me as soon as they heard about the accident, and they do everything they can for you to get you back up and going as quick as possible.”
Although he won’t be riding this Saturday, the 21-year-old is excited to see his peers acknowledged and rewarded for their commitment to the sport.
“It’s really good to see a day just to recognise all of the jockeys and recap on what has been a big season for everyone really,” he said.
“We get put under a fair bit of scrutiny being jockeys so to have a day there to recognise our efforts is really nice to see.”
Nothdurft is leading the Queensland Metropolitan Jockey Premiership this season, and will imminently become only the third apprentice in the last 18 seasons to claim the title after Michael Rodd and Zac Purton in 2002 and 2008.
“To be a part of that company is a big achievement, we all know what they’ve gone on to do in their careers and if I can go on and be half as successful as they have then I will have had a good career,” Nothdurft said.
“It’s the highlight of my career for sure, and this year as well I’ve had a number of career highlights.
“Winning The Wave was another, and even though it was only a Benchmark 72 to win on Niedorp the day that Tony’s dad passed away, that gave me a big thrill.”