Racehorse a labour of love- Article by Tony McMahon

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Jess Mergard admitted to being besotted the first time she laid eyes on brilliant racehorse filly Better Reflection (aka Soda) on what was to be a fateful day in March last year.

Smitten at first sight on what she described as a cracker of a filly Jess put it her way – “I just fell in love with her”.

Jess, 34, a horse lover like the thousands of her counterparts, the other female stable hands and track work riders engaged in the racing industry, knew right there and then that she wanted to be part of Soda’s ownership.

“I came over to the stables to help Wiggo (trainer John Wigginton) unload the three yearlings he had bought at the Gold Coast Sale. At the time I had no interest or desire in buying into another racehorse but I just knew as soon as I saw Soda, I had to be part of her. There was something about her. A great walker and for mine a ready-made two-years-old”, Jess said,

At first it looked like being a case of “love scorned” as Jess was downhearted when John told her he thought all the shares “were gone” in the $20,000 badly faced Better Than Ready filly.

As things panned out Jess got her share through fate and thanks to the help and financial support of her late mother Jo.

A single mother with two children Indiana 13 and Dominic 5, Jess said her mother was inspirational and encouraged her to back her judgement and purchase a small share and become one of the 13 shareholders in Better Reflection.

“I’d raced two horses before. One never raced and the other only had one start and that was it after a barrier incident. Mum knew this but instead of saying don’t be so stupid she said if you have such a feeling about this filly, I’ll help you get into her”, Jess said.

Sadly, her mother Jo passed away in September last year just two months short of Better Reflection’s devasting debut win at Callaghan Park before scoring in Listed CORRECT company in Brisbane.

Now, Better Reflection is on the cusp of becoming Rockhampton racing’s brightest young starlet after a four-career start for three wins, the most recent in Brisbane a fortnight ago.

Those wins have netted $193,000 in prize money but Jess said expenses such as double knee surgery had “chewed into the earnings” before Soda’s first-up haul of $79,450 from winning on September 28.

“It was never about the money. It was the love for the horse. Admittedly financially she has helped me but it is just the thrill. It is such a magic ride”, Jess said.

Money or no money and all things aside, it is just reward for Jess who broke her back in a southern track work incident when 11 weeks pregnant with Indiana back in the mid-2000’s.

“The doctors said I would never ride again but I did and still ride five horse work each morning here at Callaghan Park”, Jess said.

Her euphoric feelings for Better Reflection are completely understandable as not only is Jess her owner but also her personal attendant and strapper on race day.

“I can’t really describe the feeling of leading back to the winners’ circle your own horse. I’ve been lucky and worked for big stables interstate hand handled GR 1 horses on race day but for me to be leading in my own (Soda) is simply magic. Unbelievable really”, she said.

While rating Better Reflections win and leading her back-in after the $125K LR Calaway Gal Stakes at Doomben last December as being “something special”, Jess reckons the win a fortnight back was nearly as emotional.

“To come back after running in the Magic Millions in January and surgery on both knees and win first-up meant she had not lost her hunger for winning. I really owe it all to Mum”, Jess said.

Jess is typical of the vast majority of stakeholders in the racing industry who love their horses but, in this case, she is part of special filly in Better Reflection with her racing chapter seemingly in its infancy.

After galloping brilliantly on the course proper at Callaghan Park early yesterday TUESDAY morning, Jess along with Team Wittington and Bettter Reflection are Brisbane bound again this week.

Better Reflection will be ridden by claiming apprentice Nick Keal in the $110,000 QTIS 3YO Handicap (1200m) thereby reducing her weight from 59kg to 56kg.

If all goes to script, a beaming Jess Mergard will be proudly leading her Soda back into the Eagle Farm winners circle albeit with a tear in her eyes for her late mum Jo.

PICTURE 1: Strapper and part-owner Jess Milgard’s affection for Better Reflection as this race day pose reflects is ever so evident. Photo supplied.

PICTURE 2: Jess Milgard the track work rider is ready for action at Callaghan Park early yesterday. Photo Tony McMahon,


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