Smith, Dodds in battle for apprentice honours

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By Darryn Nufer

WHEN Rockhampton trainer Jim O’Shea was kicked in the chest this week by a horse he thought his chest “had caved in” and his time was up.

The blow put the 67-year-old in hospital and he was very lucky to escape without serious injury.

Still recovering from the incident O’Shea was forced to watch Thursday’s races at Callaghan Park, where he had two runners engaged, from the comfort of his Gracemere home while his son Stephen and stable representatives took care of business.

In what proved a timely tonic for O’Shea his three-year-old gelding Rapt In Black was able to win the maiden race with stablemate Silver Fox finishing back in fifth place.

What they say about the highs and lows of racing O’Shea certainly experienced this week.

But even the quietly-spoken trainer wouldn’t have wanted to take all of the credit as Thursday’s victory was made possible courtesy of a well-judged ride from young apprentice jockey Elyce Smith.

Given instructions to lead on what connections thought may have been a one-trick pony not blessed with a great amount of ability and breathing issues to boot, Smith quickly had to think of a “Plan B” when her mount wasn’t fast to begin.

She summed the situation up perfectly and took a sit behind the two pace-setters before peeling off their heels in the straight to score a narrow victory.

My personal interest in the winner aside, I watched Smith closely throughout the day on her other rides partly because I’m intrigued with the battle currently taking place for leading apprentice honours at Rockhampton this season.

After Thursday’s racing Smith (pictured), with 10 winners for the season, trails fellow apprentice Lachlan Dodds by one.

Considering both 20-year-old Smith and 25-year-old Dodds are in their first season of riding the TAB circuit and only experienced hoops Justin Stanley (22 winners) and Ashley Butler (13) have had more success at Callaghan Park in 2017/18, the newcomers have made great starts to their apprenticeships.

More importantly they have been the breath of fresh air Rocky racing was gasping for following last year’s departures of apprentice Zoe White (to Brisbane) and Adrian Coome (retirement).

Remember Coome and White finished first and second respectively in the jockey premiership here last season.

Back to what I noted watching Smith on Thursday.

She gave star filly Paradis Imperial every chance with a big weight (3rd); rode $41 outsider King Cobia into a second placing; finished third on Captain Adriatic and her only unplaced finish for the day was on Clappers (5th) and she put him in a position where he had every possible hope.

Mark that down as a good day at the office.

Will you read anything about it on social media? No.

Why not?

Because the “grandstand jockeys” usually like to put jockeys in the spotlight when they give one a “bad ride” and the keyboard warriors are more often than not talking through their pockets.

All punters have done it at some stage and those who haven’t are good liars.

I watched an interview with veteran Melbourne Group 1 winning jockey Stephen Baster on television just last week on this very subject.

Baster said it was a lot tougher these days for apprentices than back in his era due to the added pressure placed on them by greater TV coverage, more camera angles and the exposure through social media and the internet.

He said when he was an apprentice learning the craft he’d punch around four at a non-TAB meeting somewhere, butcher one and very little was said or heard about it.

At a Rocky race meeting last month a couple of Elyce Smith’s rides met with criticism on social media.

Some of the comments from anonymous Tweeters, who couldn’t even put their identities alongside their opinions, crossed the line and were downright nasty.

Sure it wasn’t a good day at the office for Smith but that’s what learning is all about. Apprentice jockeys have an (a) beside their names in the form guide for a reason.

Besides, even the best sports stars, legends, have bad days. They’re human. Just ask NFL quarterback Tom Brady.

On the day in question stewards spoke with Smith about a couple of her rides. That’s not a criticism, just good stewarding.

Former top jockey Shane Scriven was also on course that day to provide feedback and guidance to Smith in his mentoring role with Racing Queensland.

Smith didn’t enter into any of the social media comment. She just put her head down and continued to work hard at her game.

And that has brought her results – not just at Callaghan Park but other tracks as well.

I hope Smith and Dodds stick to it because their battle to become leading apprentice is good for our product and, as with any sport, youth is the lifeblood.

This year’s Capricornia Yearling Sale catalogue can be viewed on the Central Queensland Thoroughbred Breeders Association website (www.cqtba.com) and print copies will soon be available.

The Rockhampton Jockey Club will host a rare but welcome Friday TAB meeting when racing returns to Callaghan Park next week.

 

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