Jess Leads The Way In The Racing Industry

By Abby Delucyk

It is no secret that Jess Castle was born for the Racing industry. Between her schedule of retraining multiple off the track Thoroughbreds, earning ribbons in showing on behalf of clients, completing a Certificate IV in Racehorse Training with Team Thoroughbred’s Training Academy and working as a Foreperson for Kristen Buchanan at Wyong, it’s no surprise that passion drives Jess’ day.

At the age of just 3 Jess began riding lessons on the Central Coast, and by the age of 4 she had her first pony, Sparkle, who helped her learn the basics. With her interest in horses well and truly ignited, she enrolled into the Bouddi Pony Club when she was just 6 years old unaware that this would be the start of a lifelong passion. Jess went on to try a number of disciplines, including dressage and show jumping, but has found her niche in showing.

Jess competing at the Grand Nationals 2022 with one of her thoroughbreds DPKingdom.

While continuing to excel in riding and earning ribbons showing, competing on behalf of clients, Jess set her sights on completing an Honours degree as a Dietician at the University of Newcastle, going on to work as a qualified dietician. However, when she wasn’t working in her new career field or competing at equestrian events, Jess found another way to fill her remaining time with horses, riding trackwork for Kristen Buchanan in Wyong.

The days could be long, with Jess explaining “I used to wake up at 3:30am and ride trackwork for Kristen until 7am, then drive straight from the track to wherever I was competing for clients, such as Melbourne”. Despite the stress of juggling these commitments, Jess believes that because she loves it so much, it doesn’t feel like work but, acknowledges the sacrifices she makes to fit it all in “Being able to run on as little sleep as possible is key!”.

Like many occupations, Jess’ role as a dietician was affected when covid hit and she was forced to evaluate her career path. Jess reached out to Kristen Buchanan and initially regained her position riding trackwork for Kristen again. This eventually progressed to her being offered the valued position as a Foreperson, becoming Kristen’s right hand woman and opening up opportunities that Jess wasn’t aware of until she was in the industry.

“Riding track work allowed me to discover that there were careers within the racing industry such as being a racehorse trainer which is what I believe I’m meant to do”. With the encouragement from Kristen to pursue this passion, Jess reached out to Team Thoroughbred’s Training Academy to enrol into the Certificate IV to become a racehorse trainer. “It was really intimidating at first to apply but with Kristen’s encouragement and efforts to enrol it pushed me forward”, Jess said.

On balancing her work and training, Jess said, “The training Academy understood how time within the racing industry is a luxury, and they were very flexible with the hours and workload. The course has been really user friendly and the support that came with it allowed me to continue learning with Kristen”.

Jess and 10yo DPKingdom winning Champion Off The Track Thoroughbred 2022 at Bathurst Royal. Credit – Mel Goodson

Jess’ success doesn’t just stop at the stables. Whilst retraining numerous thoroughbreds that have come off the track, Jess continues to excel in high class competitions riding on behalf of clients in showing events, often coming away with multiple ribbons.

One of the many thoroughbreds, DPKingdom, is testament to her dedication and retraining efforts having won multiple championships across Australia. “My biggest achievement with DPKingdom has been qualifying him for the Grand Nationals for the past 4 years and winning Champion Off The Track Thoroughbred at the Bathurst Royal recently”. Jess remains dedicated to the racing industry, waking up at the crack of dawn on her days off to compete in showing, overlooking a sleep-in in favour of the opportunity to add to her extensive ribbon collection.

“In the future, I hope to obtain my Racehorse Trainers License and get the opportunity to have a stable of my own racehorses to train at Wyong on the Central Coast. I love every part of it, I love racing and retraining thoroughbreds”.

Tilly & Cosmo Shoot For The Stars

By Julieanne Horsman

At just 21 years of age, Matilda “Tilly” McCarroll has an equestrian CV that would turn someone twice her age green with envy. She has represented her state in eventing, was named NSW Young Eventer of the Year in 2019, helps manage Phisher Park Equestrian with her mother, trains horses for clients and rides trackwork for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. But her greatest achievement of all so far has four legs, a long tail and can clear jumps the size of a small car.

Tilly was thrown on a horse’s back before she could walk. Her mother, Sheridan, was a hunt rider in her native England and bought Tilly a miniature pony when she was a baby. She did all the usual things a young equestrian would do and had taken up eventing by 11, the youngest age permitted to participate in the sport. She competed on a Paint Horse named Jimmy before moving onto a Thoroughbred x Warmblood named Tom, picking up loads of ribbons along the way, but as she got older her desire to have a go at retraining an off the track Thoroughbred grew.  As fate would have it, opportunity came knocking and Tilly was ready.

Tilly and former Chris Waller-trained Gelding Cosmic Cube, making light work of a table top jump. Credit – Elizabeth Borowick

Renowned equestrian Martha Brister and her talented son Charlie had recently acquired Cosmic Cube, an off the track Thoroughbred previously trained by Chris Waller. The then six-year-old gelding had enjoyed success on the track, highlighted by his win in the Listed National Sprint. Martha and Charlie enjoyed riding him and were impressed by his scope when free jumping, but with Charlie heading overseas, they had to find a new home for him.

“Cosmo was athletic and had a nice big stride, making him well-suited to eventing,” Charlie said. “Tilly was an ambitious young rider who I knew would put in the hard yards to get the best out of him. The first phone call I made was to her and the horse was gone.”

Aged 15 at the time, Tilly was a boarder at New England Girls School in Armidale which is known for its outstanding equestrian program and facilities. She was able to stable Cosmic Cube with her at the school which afforded her the time to work with him daily.

“Being able to finish my schoolwork then go straight out and ride made the process a lot easier,” Tilly said. “Having an onsite coach was a real benefit too. Cosmo was a lot of horse to start with though. I think I fell off twice a week in the beginning, but he taught me how to “stick” and I started jumping within a month.”

It wasn’t long before Tilly’s hard work began to pay off. She took Cosmic Cube to a local show where they entered the combined training class, but it didn’t quite go to plan.

“Cosmo went around the showjumping course beautifully, but he bucked in the dressage and we scored 43%,” Tilly said with a laugh. “We went to another show in Tamworth a few months later and that was much better.”

As the months passed, ribbons began to accumulate as Tilly and Cosmic Cube worked their way up the grades. By 2019 Tilly had been named the NSW Junior Eventer of the Year and Cosmic Cube was in the top five on the Junior Eventing Leader Board for the state. In 2020 they won the 1.10m Thoroughbred class at Waratah Showjumping at Sydney International Equestrian Centre. By 2021 they were competing at 3* level.

“Producing a horse from 60cm to 3* is very satisfying,” Tilly said. “It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Even training Cosmo to do the dressage movements and master the technicality and height of the jumping was rewarding. At one stage I was considering selling him but he’s too good to let go!”

Tilly has discovered another talent in riding track work for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. Credit – Ashlea Brennan

In September last year, Tilly welcomed a new Thoroughbred into her stable – All Too Royal, a seven-year-old All Too Hard gelding previously trained by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace.

“I went up to Vinery Stud for a test ride and he was absolutely wonderful,” Tilly said. “He was stunning to look at, he had a great brain and understood the questions I was asking him. He hadn’t been touched in two months, but I was able to get straight on and ride him with other horses running around in the next paddock and he didn’t bat an eyelid.”

She has begun producing “Roy” as an eventer and plans to compete him up to 1* before selling him to an appropriate home.

“He went to Tamworth Horse Trials recently and placed 5th in the 60cm class,” Tilly said. “I bumped him up to 80cm at Qurindi and we came 4th. You feel a great sense of accomplishment when you get a horse going so lovely. I’m proud of Roy and myself.

“Thoroughbreds really are so versatile and can do anything. They have been exposed to a lot in their racing career – crowds, photographers, noise, travelling, waiting. It sets them up well for life after racing and to see them succeeding in a new career makes me so happy.”

Tilly juggles her own horses with riding track work for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott at Randwick. It was something she wanted to do for a long time and when a friend mentioned there was an opening, she applied and was soon setting her alarm for 3am.

“I will never forget my first day,” Tilly said. “It was dark, cold and I certainly wasn’t accustomed to getting up that early!”

She gallops several horses and if they need it, gives them some dressage-style flat work. She also jumps some of them to mix up their training.

“One of the best things about working in the racing industry is riding the horses and then seeing them go on to be successful. I rode Never Been Kissed in work and she went on to win a Group 1. Track riding has helped my fitness and my rider strength as well. Waking up knowing I am getting stronger every day is good motivation.”

Tilly also has her sights set on competing in Equimillion, the new $1million equestrian series recently announced by Racing NSW.

“I’m looking forward to hearing more about that and getting involved!”