Leaving SA while leading the metropolitan jockeys’ premiership would be “silly” – so Jessica Eaton is staying.
Eaton has significantly impacted the local racing since arriving from Victoria in July last year for more riding opportunities. The 27-year-old apprentice has ridden 34 metropolitan winners so far this season, three clear of reigning champion Todd Pannell and five ahead of third-placed Jason Holder.
Based in Murray Bridge, she has formed a lethal combination with emerging local trainer Michael Hickmott, who has prepared 26 metropolitan winners already this season to sit third on the premiership ladder.
Eaton’s move was originally temporary, but her run of success – which has seen her Saturday claim drop from 2kg to 1.5kg – has convinced her to extend her tenure.
“With the success I’m getting, I think I’d be silly to go back to Victoria at the moment,” she said.
“I’m getting great support from Michael and he’s willing to keep supporting me in my transition to becoming a senior. The team’s flying and I want to continue that partnership going forward.
“I’m really happy with the way things are going and if that means I stick around for a couple of years, so be it.”
Eaton’s surge of South Australian winners has suddenly put the relatively rare target of outriding her apprentice’s claim within reach.
“It’s a bit of a race against time,” she said.
“I think it’s 17 or 18 wins left within 13 metro meetings, so it’s a tough ask.
“If I can continue the way I’m going I might be successful in outriding my claim, but at the same time I’m realistic that I’m going pretty well and continuing success like this isn’t easy.”
A different, more-talked-about objective is winning the metropolitan premiership.
“It is a goal, but regardless of whether it happens or not, I’m very proud of where I’m at as a rider and the success I’ve had to date,” she said.
“Michael will support me and I’ll be doing my best to make the most of the opportunity of being at the top of the premiership.
“I probably didn’t imagine getting so much success and so many opportunities from moving to another state.
“Things will definitely change once I transition to a senior. It’ll probably be a bit tougher, but I’m willing to work really hard.”
Eaton admits moving from Victoria to Murray Bridge represented a major upheaval in her life.
“It took me a while to adjust, having been in a state where we race daily and you’re driving all over the state on a regular basis to get rides,” she said.
“But once I adjusted to that more low-key environment, I’ve really enjoyed it.
“Obviously on race day I’m quite busy and having a couple of days in between each race gives you time to unwind and really focus on yourself as well, so it’s created a really good work-life balance.
“I enjoy it at Murray Bridge. It’s close to work and Adelaide’s less than an hour’s drive away. To me that’s nothing and I’m more than happy to do it, to see friends like Teagan (Voorham), especially when you don’t have to battle traffic like you do in Victoria.”
The decision to stay in South Australia also has ramifications on her relationship with partner and Racing.com presenter James Tzaferis.
“COVID obviously makes it a bit difficult with seeing James,” she said.
“But with the borders open we can make that manageable and if I’m out of my time as an apprentice it would make it easier in terms of workload as well.
“I guess it’s a case of, as they say, make hay while the sun shines.”
Former Adelaide jockey Jamie Kah is mirroring Eaton’s success in Melbourne, currently leading the metropolitan premiership across the border. Eaton is pleased that females continue to make their mark on the sport.
“It’s good to see so many women being so successful and hopefully it attracts more women to the industry, because there’s a lot of room there and places to be filled,” she said.
“And in terms of weight for jockeys, women do it easily.”
Note: Eaton made a special point of mentioning the influence of SA jockey coach Darryn Murphy, who she described as “a great mentor”.