Hillier’s Taking The Racing Scene By Storm

By Abby Delucyk

“I was just a kid who loved horses and lived on a farm.”

Rising NSW Apprentice jockey Chelsea Hillier may be from a small rural country town, but she is making a big impact on the racing scene.

Growing up in rural Barraba, Hillier has been surrounded by horses her whole life.

“We have always had horses growing up as Dad is a jockey and mum loves to ride.”

Although Chelsea was an active member of Barraba Pony Club, she never competed in any specific discipline and simply enjoyed riding and being around horses.

Her passion for horses was forced to sit on the backburner as her family relocated to Glen Innes and went on to attend Fairholme College boarding school in Toowoomba.

It wasn’t until Chelsea finished school that she could invest her time into racing. Reuniting with her passion, Chelsea stayed in Queensland where she started on the ground with trainer Brian Smith.

Although Chelsea enjoyed this experience, she had a burning desire to learn to ride trackwork and decided to move back home to Glenn Innes to ignite this dream.

She picked up where she left off and started riding trackwork for local trainer Paddy Cunningham. It was here that Chelsea put in the hours to learn the ins and outs of riding.

“It was since riding trackwork that I always had in the back of my mind to become a jockey. I always was that little bit too heavy so I resigned to the fact I could never be a jockey,” Chelsea said.

Chelsea was on a roll with her riding practice before this came to an abrupt holt after she sustained a bad injury from a routine morning ride on a Coffs Harbour beach. This saw Chelsea sidelined for 12 months.

With this forced time off, Chelsea decided to relocate to Sydney. When covid hit, Hillier used this time to strip some weight and become a jockey for popular trainer, Mark Newnham.

“The weight aspect is really challenging part for me as I am not naturally a lightweight and need to stay on top of this. The mental side of being a jockey is also a challenge as you have to remember to stay true to yourself,” Chelsea said.

As the weight stayed off, Chelsea has continued to excel in her riding career and has since moved to Scone to ride on behalf of Rod Northam. A career highlight for Hillier was when she scored at Treble in front of a home crowd at Deepwater earlier this year.

“This was a pretty big achievement for myself considering I was so heavy and just the journey I took to get here. I really look up to Craig Williams as an inspiration for riding but also as the person he is. He really gives back to the sport, and I admire his kindness,” Chelsea said.

Paying tribute to her families’ support, Hillier mentions “I have been bought up in a way that nothing is easy, and you have to work hard for what you want. I would love to be able to ride in Sydney one day and just be the best rider I can be.”

With hard work being ingrained in Hillier’s DNA, it’s no surprise that she is an apprentice to watch this season.

Godolphin’s Golden Girl

By Abby Delucyk

If you told a young Amy Walker that she would be donning the iconic blue uniform and strapping ‘Exploring’ in the prestigious 2023 Golden Slipper, she would have thought you were lying.

Now, this is her reality.

Amy’s love for horses was ingrained into her from a young age through the influence of her mother, who spent her childhood surrounded by horses.

“My mum passed on this passion as she bought me my first horse when I was around 7 years old. She always said I would grow out of this obsession I had with riding and kept insisting it was just a hobby. Much to her dismay I was very persistent with it, and she ended up buying me a years’ worth of riding lessons to help me develop my skills,” Amy said.

It was at Mulgoa Pony Club that Amy learnt the fundamentals of riding and got up at the crack of dawn every Saturday to ride.

Amy strapping Exploring in the 2023 Longines Golden Slipper.

With Amy still well and truly invested in riding, she purchased her first off the track Thoroughbred in 2013, who was a 3yo 17hh gelding called ‘Ace’. This purchase kick started her ownership of horses, which has expanded to having 4 horses in her care now.  

As Amy grew up, her introduction into the racing industry came through her experience of working at a TAB call centre for 3 years when she was fresh out of school.

“It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do but I knew it was never in an office job and instead working with animals. I left TAB and worked in a dog shelter before I started at a dressage stable with Hannah & Heidi Scott in Glenorie,” Amy said.

Although Amy had returned to working with horses, she still didn’t feel like she was in the right job.

“I always remember driving past the Godolphin stables at Agnes Banks and dreaming of working there. I thought why not ask if they have a position available, so I gave them a call but wasn’t hopeful at all because I know how hard it is to work there,” Walker said.

To Amy’s surprise, Godolphin came calling the next day to organise an interview which sent her hopes skyrocketing. Within 72hrs from her original call, Amy was offered a racing hand job for Godolphin.

“Godolphin is just an all-round amazing place to work, and I’ve achieved a lot with them. I’ve been there for 4 years now and genuinely can’t fault it,” Amy said.

Within these 4 years, Amy’s favourite moment was in 2019 when she strapped her first winner, Vivaro at Hawkesbury, just a month after she started at the well-known stable.

Despite this, Amy mentions, “My favourite horse will always be Segalas as she was the first horse I looked after at Godolphin and strapped for 3 years.  

“I love being a stable hand and strapper, but I would eventually love to explore the possibility of being a Foreman one day and working up to this. The good thing with Godolphin is they always offer room for growth and the opportunities are endless.

“I found my dream job which not a lot of people can say,” Amy concluded.

McDonough’s Hunt For Glory

By Abby Delucyk

It’s not every day you hear that a 27yr old has made the decision to start her jockey apprenticeship. But for a determined Sarah McDonough, this career switch is a long time in the making.

After 12 years working in the horse racing industry, Sarah McDonough’s love of horses has transpired into a life-long career. Her sheer dedication has taken her to places she didn’t even was possible.

Originally from South Australia, Sarah doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t horseback. She grew up at Pony Club and on the equestrian scene with eventing being her main discipline.

Having competed since she was 9, McDonough accumulated an extensive trophy cabinet. She won the State Championships at every grade of Pony Club and represented South Australia twice at the Interschool National Championships in 2011 and 2012.

Her introduction to the racing industry came through a conversation she had with childhood friend and talented jockey, Jamie Kah. 

“I was 15 at the time when Jamie asked if I wanted a part time stable hand job at John MacMillan’s stable. I worked 3 days a week before school and occasionally help strap on Saturdays and Wednesday if I could get the time off school.

“After I finished school, I started working full time in the stables where I continued to strap regularly and learnt to ride track work,” McDonough said.

As Sarah unlocked a new passion with riding, she took the leap and booked her ticket to England where she worked for Australian trainer Jeremy Gask. “This was such a good experience as I learnt a different way of doing things and a different racing style.”

With international experience under her belt, Sarah returned to home soil where she went on to work for numerous trainers across Australia, including Tony McEvoy, all while completing University.

Sarah even had a stint in Alice Springs where she rode trackwork and worked part time as a Clerk of the Course throughout their Cup Carnival. “I really got serious about becoming an apprentice when I was in Alice Springs, but it was a little hard for me to complete my Certificate III up there”.

After leaving Alice Springs, Sarah found her way to Scone where she worked for Cameron Crockett for 18 months. Most would recognise Sarah as a regular face at the races strapping and then working as a Foreperson for Crockett for a short period until she resigned in May 2022.

“I did take great pride in taking a team of the horses to the races and representing the stable. But I came to Scone with the mission to be an apprentice and at the end of the day it is what I want to do, and I’ve always just done what everyone else wants me to,” Sarah said.

In a twist of fate, both McDonough and Gask have found their way to Scone and joined forces again in June 2022. “Jeremy is very good to work for as he has created a great, relaxed environment on the farm. I’m glad I have now been able to work for Jeremy all these years later as a much more mature person and rider.” she said.

Despite McDonough working on the ground for years, she always had a burning desire to hop in the saddle.

“It wasn’t until I learnt to ride trackwork that I decided I really wanted to ride but, didn’t quite believe I was good enough for it. Being an apprentice is something I have always wanted to do but haven’t gotten the opportunity until now.”

McDonough’s scratched this ‘itch’ to ride last year in November when she finally received her apprenticeship with her master, Jeremy, in which she says was “a long time coming.”

“Jeremy was the one that gave me a chance to start my apprenticeship as one day we were on the truck, and he bought up wanting an apprentice. I just remembering saying, “What about me?”,” Sarah said.

“I started my Certificate III when I first came to Scone but had to put it on hold for a while when things weren’t quite heading in the direction of being an apprentice jockey. I’m really thankful for Scott Thurlow and the team at the Team Thoroughbred NSW Training Academy for their patience throughout the journey and I wouldn’t have got to this point without the support.”

With 14 trials already under Sarah’s belt, she doesn’t only look up to Jamie Kah as the catalyst for her career but also as an inspiration in terms of riding. 

“I think every female jockey aspire to be like Jamie as she is the pinnacle. Watching the jockeys in Sydney is something you aspire to be like, but I also look up to local jockeys such as Aaron Bullock and Brooke Stower because we ride against them regularly,” Sarah said. Regardless of how McDonough performs in the saddle, her determination will always be her success as she preserves to pursue her dream of riding.