Rocky Racing Through The Years with Tony McMahon.
Published 16 October 2023
ROCKY RACING THROUGH THE YEARS
During her whirlwind jockeying career, racing was always at the forefront for Rockhampton apprentice jockey Elly Beak (nee Smith) as was Emerald’s Pioneer Park racecourse. The latter’s significance is special to retired jockey Elly 26 for many reasons. Afterall, it was at that very racecourse on March 26, 2017, that Elly as a Smith rode her first winner Fine Finesse. That thrill will be encased in her memory for life. Elly would never have imagined at the time that just over three years later again at Pioneer Park, she would rewrite the record books there on April 11, 2020, by riding six winners at an Emerald Jockey Club race meeting. For a female apprentice jockey such a feat in Australia was believed to be unprecedented. But that achievement pales into insignificance to what Elly Beak carried physically nestling against her at the same racecourse last Saturday at Emerald 100 race day. It was patently obvious that infant son Dominic brings out more beaming smiles and joy than any of the 211 winners on mum’s jockeying CV.
Dubbed “The Princess of Rockhampton Racing” through her riding feats and popularity, Elly was also courageous, inspiring and delightful. She sustained life threatening injuries in an accident pre-race at Thangool racecourse in September 2018 when a horse she was riding bolted during its preliminary and catapulted her into a steel upright. Even as she slowly recovered from multiple surgeries for serious head injuries during a shattering period of months of hospitalisation and rehabilitation, in the eyes of many including medical practitioners and those close to her, the prospects of Elly riding again looked slim. Elly wouldn’t have a “bar of it” as the thought never crossed her mind. A horse rider from any equine pursuit and more so in horse racing will tell you the “mental scars” alone from having no control of being on board a bolting horse can be devastating. Fueled, by her sheer determination and sustained by the love and support of parents, father – the trainer Fred Smith mother Karen and family, Elly overcame the seemingly insurmountable odds mounting up against her. So, six months after that horrific Thangool incident she was cleared by medical and racing authorities and given back her “ticket to ride”. In a dream result at Callaghan Park racecourse on February 28, 2019, Elly (Smith at the time) rode the race of her life winning on her father’s horse Rocky Poet at her first ride back. Tears of joy flowed that Thursday afternoon at Callaghan Park. However, for Elly the best was yet to come.
There seemed to be no stopping her for the ensuing 2019-20 racing season in Rockhampton. More surprises and treasured memories, including planning to take up a role as a primary school teacher down the track in Emerald were being nurtured. None more so however than when Elly in her first uninterrupted racing season (19/20) won both the Rockhampton Jockey Club apprentice’s and senior jockey premierships. Never boastful, quiet, reserved and often judged a little shy, Elly let her riding speak for her and talk loudly it did. On April 17, 2021, Elly Smith became Elly Beak when she married, Jesse Beak who was from a dynasty of CQ thoroughbred racing owners, breeders and administrators. It was racing’s perfect match. Elly had moved to Emerald and to forgo a career as a full-time jockey to take an appointment as a primary school teacher there. Elly made no secret that a teaching career was a passion of hers from a young age. For years unbeknownst to her flock of racing fans, she had been studying for a teaching degree while riding from her Rockhampton base. When announced publicly to that legion of loyal followers, “surprise” was the consensus of opinion. However, Elly had always made it clear to those close to her that jockeying finished a well beaten second to aspirations of becoming a teacher. As jockey Elly Beak she only had a handful of rides resulting in a winning double at her favourite racecourse Pioneer Park on Shiranda and All Native on May 22, 2021. While she did not know it at the time, her last winner would be a week later on the Ricky Vale, Rockhampton trained I Love This Hippie at Mackay on May 29, 2021.
Fate, as so often it does, stepped in. While jockeying is regarded as one of the most dangerous if not the most perilous professions in the world of sport, it was to be an accident in a much milder sport that brought about Elly Beak’s early unplanned retirement announced on July 26, 2021. It came about just a few days after her Mackay win when she sustained a serious injury while falling playing netball. ’’Ï fell and fractured my elbow and I had not planned to retire that way. I wanted to ride at the Rockhampton Winter Carnival in July that year as my last before announcing my retirement”, she told me at the time. Although Elly had plans to keep her jockey’s licence and ride intermittently such as during school holidays, that did not eventuate. When I caught up with Elly Beak, the doting mother with Dominic in her arms last Saturday, she was a picture of contentment. Two questions, admittedly “oldies but goldies” had to be put to her. “Do you miss race riding, and do you think later on some time you may ride again as a jockey”?
“I miss the horses, but I don’t miss the wasting which I had to do as a jockey. And no, I doubt if I will ever get back to jockeying again”, Elly said.
Elly Beak through her trifecta of loves- “wife, mother and teacher” has embraced all three roles with the passion, enthusiasm and determination that forged her successful career as a jockey in so short a time span. While over the years I had become accustomed to seeing her carry a saddle onto a racecourse, it was so much more rewarding for this old softie seeing the young Mum carrying baby Dominic.
Then again one day down the track, it may be Dominic Beak carrying a saddle into the Pioneer Park, jockey’s room.
Time no doubt will tell, and I believe mum Elly would not be the least surprised.