Self-isolating in Mount Gambier ahead of an optimistic three-month SA sojourn, not even Jessica Eaton could have imagined less than a year later she would be the face of the Adelaide Racing Carnival.
“I probably would’ve laughed,” Eaton says, while having her hair and makeup done for the 2021 carnival launch at Morphettville earlier this week.
“The opportunities I’ve had in South Australia since coming over have been amazing.
“To have been as successful as I have has been unbelievable. I’m very lucky.”
Certainly luck and timing have played a role in Eaton’s current status, leading the SA metropolitan jockeys’ premiership and preparing for her first Group 1 ride at Morphettville today.
However, talent and hard work have also contributed to making former Victorian Eaton one of SA racing’s hottest properties – and her positive, accommodating nature have allowed her to capitalise.
“It’s actually been pretty surreal,” she says.
“Getting the success I’ve had has certainly opened up more doors and more opportunities.
“It’s something I’ve tried to make the most of and I think building up my profile with Racing SA is great for everyone.”
Bolstered by her prolific SA winning run, which has seen her ride 80 winners already this season, Eaton recently went close to achieving the relatively rare feat of outriding her apprentice’s claim.
Since moving into senior ranks, the winners have continued, thanks largely to her successful association with the in-form Murray Bridge-based Michael Hickmott stable.
Recently, Eaton’s partner, Racing.com presenter James Tzaferis, announced he was moving to Adelaide, underlining that the initial three-month placement had become more permanent.
At this week’s 2021 Adelaide Carnival launch and joint barrier draw for today’s two Morphettville Group 1s, Eaton was up for almost anything, cheerfully and patiently obliging Racing SA staff and the media in publicising the biggest three weeks on the local racing calendar.
However, while embracing add-ons like media exposure, the 27-year-old remains focused on the main game: riding winners and improving her record.
She takes another significant step today, riding in her first Group 1, aboard Ecumenical for Murray Bridge trainer Mick Huxtable.
“I’m really excited to have kept the ride on her,” Eaton says.
“I’m very appreciative to Mick and the connections for sticking by me and giving me a go in a Group 1
“But to be on a horse like that, who’s actually a genuine chance in a Group 1, is very exciting.”
Eaton moved to SA seeking more opportunities, and if Ecumenical wins today’s Australasian Oaks expect her face to become even more recognisable across her adopted home state.