Considering her mum didn’t let her ride a thoroughbred until she was 16, Caitlin Tootell has come a long way in nine years.
The Racing SA Apprentice Academy jockey is about to make her race riding debut on Australia Day this Thursday at Murray Bridge. She’ll kick off her career on Unicorny, a Shayne Cahill trained horse she’s familiar with after riding it in trials and trackwork.
Tootell’s race riding debut is something she’s dreamt about since going to the races with her family as a little girl.
“It’s something I always wanted to do but mum was a little bit scared. I wasn’t allowed to actually ride a horse until I was 16,” said Tootell, whose dad David has had a long career as a jockey in South Australia.
“The 25 years I’ve been alive I’ve been going to the races so I’ve grown up in it. I just wasn’t allowed on one. It’s been a long time coming so I’m so keen to get going and racing.”
Tootell is also apprenticed to one of the best in the business, Adelaide Cup winning jockey Shayne Cahill, the first dual licenced trainer/jockey in SA to have an apprentice in their care.
It’s a family affair at Cahill’s Ashbourne property. He’s married to Caitlin’s half-sister Chelsea who is a key part of the business. Caitlin’s identical twin Amanda also works there helping care for the race horses.
“She’s got what I think is good balance and lovely hands,” said Cahill. “She’s got that little bit of toughness about her that will take her a long way in racing. Especially as a jockey you’ve got to have thick skin and you’ve got to be able to not be bluffed or take anyone’s crap.
“So I think she has got the right set up for it so it’s just a matter of learning how to race ride, and that’s going to be something that once she’s out there that’ll come pretty quickly too her.
“She is very quiet most of the time but she grits her teeth and digs deep when she has to. She definitely has got some competitiveness about her.
“Caitlin is lucky to be in this environment and I’ve been able to help her a lot so far in the time that she’s been here. I just go out of my way to help younger people and she is just one of them. So being here in this environment has helped her be a better rider as well, and also a better horse person so I think it’s going to take her a long way,” he said.
Along with the family background in race riding, ten years of gymnastics focusing on the balance beam has also provided a strong grounding for Caitlin’s riding.
“Shayne’s been really good. He has helped me a lot, and it’s a lot more peaceful than in town, so yeah it’s been really good, nice and relaxed.
“I did gymnastics for 10 years so that probably does help a little bit. I suppose dad being a jockey too, it’s kind of in the genes.
“Mum is accepting of my riding a bit more now, but I still think she is a bit scared.
“One day I’d like to take it interstate. Whether I’m good enough or not that’s another thing.
“I think I have a bit of a better attitude than my dad so that might take me a bit further, but he was a gun jockey back in the day and still can ride one out.”
Tootell is also expected to race at Strathalbyn, with Two Odd Sox nominated for Sunday.