The galloping granny – apprentice Ngaire Nelson – snared her most important win in a remarkable topsy turvy career when Tolga trained Windmill Lane bolted away with the time honoured Johnstone River Handicap on Saturday at Innisfail.
It was truly a thoroughly justified victory for North Queensland’s little battler.
She may not have an ultra impressive record up on the stats sheet, but there are some valid reasons.
She does, however, hold the record as the only grandmother apprentice in the country. Ngaire (no she’s not a Kiwi either) has a 22-year-old son, Tyler, who works in the sugar industry at Ingham and is the father of four-year-old Aria, Ngaire’s granddaughter.
Ngaire’s mother was holidaying in NZ when she discovered she was pregnant. She named her baby Ngaire, which translates to “only child”, the now 38-year-old apprentice jockey explained.
Ngaire comes out of her time in January next year but she hopes she might get another extension as “I am just getting a go-on since we moved to Townsville a few months ago”.
She is, in fact, the only apprentice in Townsville – supposedly the hub of racing in the north. But that’s another story!
Ngaire’s story is a tragic episode of a baby-faced barmaid from Thangool who at 21 decided she wanted to be a jockey. Everything was going along fine until one morning she was asked to ride a gallop.
It was the morning after a race meeting and there was a gap in the running rail that allowed access for the starting stalls. The horse went through the gap at full gallop and out of control. The jockey was very lucky to survive. She spent three months in Rockhampton Base Hospital and then 12 months in Brisbane’s Princess Alexander recovering from multiple injuries including brain damage. There were grave fears she might never walk again, let alone ride a horse.
That should have been enough, but it didn’t discourage the would-be jockey. When hubby Rick moved to Innisfail as few years back Ngaire had her interest in race riding renewed and then in March 2015 she had a “disagreement” with a horse named Skitter and the aptly named mare unceremoniously dumped her in the parade ring at Innisfail. Horrified spectators saw the tiny jockey hurled into the air and then come crashing down over the all-pipe running rail.
“I actually landed on the horse’s head. It broke my fall, otherwise it could have been really bad.”
It was bad enough! Just another 12 months in a brace. But she bounced back (as grannies do!) and collected the coveted jockey’s shield (and cheque) at Oak Park this year.
And on Saturday collected the Johnston River – the revered North Queensland sprint that everyone loves to win.
“I have never been so thrilled.”
And no one has ever been more deserving than the little granny with a big heart – and a big wide grin.
THE Massinghams of Cairns are one of the best known and respected families in the north.
And have been for generations.
Sadly Colin, known only as Jag, on Sunday celebrated his 50th birthday in a wheelchair surrounded by more than 100 relatives and friends at Cairns Base Hospital.
It was a sometimes sad and solemn celebration but at least reinstated some cheer after what has been an horrific few weeks.
Jag, son of sadly departed Wayne (Pop), and brother of Wayne (Cairns Jockey Club committeeman) and Steve (Boogie) a leading Cannon Park trainer, was working on preparations for the recent Cairns Amateurs when involved in a freakish but serious accident involving a forklift. An accident that in a split second has changed his life. Jag not only suffered massive internal injuries including both lungs punctured, but suffered a stroke while in hospital that has severely impacted on his mobility.
Jag is everyone’s mate. He has been a long time Cairns swabbing steward and was there for anyone whenever there was a need.
His mate Peter Kennedy, who attended Sunday’s function, said “Jag is an all round good bloke who faces a hard slog to recover from his misfortunes.”
We all wish him a complete and speedy recovery.
THE last of the major racing events in the north this year will be held on Saturday with the running of the Pallarenda Stakes at Cluden. It was once the premier two-year event and usually the first race for the babies in north Queensland. And it has been won by some pretty slick performers over the years.
Paul Gordy doesn’t remember how many he won in a highly successful riding career. “I think around six,” he grumbled (in his inimitable style) at the track this week.
Paul, who is helping his son Leslie with a small string at Wulguru, was hoping to have a runner this year as an owner. He bought a yearling that he named Tawhiri which was shaping as a likely candidate but it was decided to bypass the race in preference for the spelling paddock.
Bub Baker is another who can’t remember how many Pallarendas he has won, as a trainer. “I don’t know but it is five or six,” he said.
Bub, the master trainer of two-year-olds in the district, will saddle up Noble Squaw who by the way will be ridden by that jockey-of -the-moment Ngaire Nelson.
“She goes good, but we can’t beat Billy Kenning’s baby,” said the normally ebullient Bub.