Rochelle Milnes’ meteoric ride from track work rider to apprentice jockey culminates in her race riding debut at Gawler on Wednesday.
Instead of strapping and saddling John Dunn and Krystal Bishop’s runners, she’ll be racing them just four months after joining the Apprentice Academy.
“It’s progressed so much faster than I could have ever really imagined,” said Milnes.
“It only started a few months ago so it’s been a fun ride but a crazy one.
“When I was really young I did want to be a jockey but I slowly let go of the dream for a little bit there. Mum and dad are from a racing background. Dad’s a jockey, mum rode track work and I think being protective parents, they didn’t really want that for me so the dream faded a little.
“But I just love the horses too much to ever leave the stable background and riding’s become a bit of a newfound love again,” she said.
It was only in May this year that Racing SA Apprentice Academy Master Briony Moore saw for herself what a natural Milnes is.
She and jockey coach Dean Pettit were watching a jumpout when they couldn’t take their eyes off a rider they soon found out was Milnes.
“We’d heard a lot about Rochelle from different people, and were at Strathalbyn watching some other jumpout riders when we spotted Rochelle in the field and thought, woah, that is a rider we really wanted to have a chat to,” Moore said.
“It was just her ability to get the horses to travel and she has really nice hands and seat in the saddle. Rochelle’s composure is also something that we don’t normally see from up and coming apprentices. It’s usually something we have to teach but for her to do it naturally was really quite freakish actually.
“And it’s not just her natural horsemanship, there’s a personable aspect of Rochelle as well, and she has a real ability to connect to trainers. Even the horses that she’s been told are naughty to ride Rochelle can get on them and have them of the bridle, going to the gates perfectly.
“I’ve never had an apprentice come through this quick. She’s done 52 race trials and she’s just done that overnight it seems,” Moore said.
It’s also helped to have the backing of Dunn and Krystal Bishop, who brought Milnes to Adelaide from Port Lincoln to work full time as a stable hand and track work rider.
“I could never have done it without them. They’ve supported me with every decision I’ve made and then helped me when I chose to go through with it,” Milnes said.
“Seeing Krystal and her racing career and having John’s knowledge for training for so long gives me the best of both worlds it’s been great.”
The daughter of ex-hoop Graham also receives plenty of feedback from her dad who’s now 100% on board with the career change.
Milnes has two rides on Wednesday and those in the know expect her to take it all in her stride.
“I’m super excited, there’s a little bit of nerves but a lot of excitement,” she said.
“I loved my strapping on race days. It was always a good time and a great experience and I’ve learnt a lot from doing that for so long. It’s nice to have a view of both sides of the fence but there’s a new thrill to look forward to now.”