Four budding female riders and the son of a former Western Australian jockey make up the five newest recruits to Racing Victoria’s (RV) Apprentice Jockey Training Program (AJTP).
Tianni Bognuda, Hannah Le Blanc, Zoe Lloyd, Makisha Salter and the sole male, Bailey Kinninmont, were all officially inducted into the prestigious program this morning (Thursday, 27 February).
After completing their four-year training program, they will aim to follow in the footsteps of countless successful graduates of the AJTP. They include Lexus Melbourne Cup-winning jockeys Michelle Payne and Craig Williams, his fellow Scobie Breasley Medal winner Blake Shinn and, in more recent years, the likes of Jye McNeil, Beau Mertens, Ben Allen, Steph Thornton and Ethan Brown.
Greg Carpenter, RV’s Executive General Manager – Racing, was excited to welcome the five new recruits into a program which has forged a reputation as Australia’s most successful breeding ground for the future stars of the saddle.
“The Apprentice Jockey Training Program aims to develop high-performing, professional athletes who have the best possible chance of forging a long and successful international racing career,” said Carpenter.
“If they work hard, absorb the advice of their coaches and show the necessary desire and commitment to succeed, I’m sure these five young budding jockeys will go on to enjoy fulfilling careers in the saddle and I look forward to monitoring their progress over the coming months.”
Le Blanc, who is studying for a Bachelor of Agriculture degree, will be apprenticed to Mornington trainer Lyn Tolson. The 24-year-old has already acquired extensive experience as a trackwork rider with the training team of Tolson and her daughter Leonie Proctor, and has also ridden beach work at Balnarring.
“My favourite part about working with racehorses is seeing their improvement,” said Le Blanc, an all-round athlete who has represented Victoria in both softball and skiing.
“Being around horses and working in the industry is so rewarding, and after my first track gallop I was absolutely hooked.”
Bognuda, aged 21, will be apprenticed to Group 1-winning trainer John Sadler at Caulfield. She has built a background in pony clubs, eventing, showing and endurance riding, and gained four years’ experience as a trackwork rider for trainers Julien Welsh and Henry Dwyer.
She said: “My parents bought me my first thoroughbred mare when I was 11 years old, and that’s when my love for racing really began. After that, all I ever wanted to do was to become a professional jockey.”
Lloyd is the elder sibling of third-year apprentice Madison Lloyd and, like her sister, she will be apprenticed to Swan Hill trainer Nathan Hobson, for whom she has worked as a stablehand and trackwork rider. The 21-year-old came from a pony club background, and has competed at state championship level in dressage and horse trails.
“From as young as I can remember, my life has revolved around horses,” said Lloyd.
“I basically began riding as soon as I was capable of holding myself upright, and have been riding ever since.
“After seeing how much my sister Madison enjoyed her time in the apprentice program, I became determined to follow in her footsteps. She really became my inspiration. I just love watching her race ride, I’ve often wished I could be out there riding alongside her and hopefully I’ll get the chance soon.”
Salter, the youngest of the new intake at 19, will be apprenticed to Mornington trainer Amy Johnston. Salter has gained experience as a stablehand and trackwork rider with leading trainers David Jolly and Matt Laurie, and has ridden trackwork for Morphettville horseman Chris Bieg.
From an early age, the South Australian was exposed to the racing industry when she accompanied her mother on her weekend duties as a stablehand.
“I’ve dreamed of becoming a jockey since before I can remember, and being around stables and seeing jockeys ride work made me even more determined to chase my dreams,” she said.
Kinninmont, who moved to Victoria from his native Western Australia two years ago, will be apprenticed to trainer Julien Welsh. The 21-year-old has been working in Welsh’s Cranbourne yard as a stablehand and trackwork rider and has also acquired experience in pre-training and breaking in horses.
His father Damien rode more than 100 winners from about 800 rides in the west, before moving to Singapore in 2010 where he is now employed by the Singapore Turf Club as its chief starter.
“Horse racing has always been my passion,” said Kinninmont Jnr.
“Growing up, I looked up to my dad and also to my godfather Patrick Carbery, who is a successful senior jockey in Perth. As a sports lover, there’s nothing more exciting than to be given the chance to be a professional athlete.”
The program is led by Brooke Meehan, RV’s Workforce Capability Manager, in conjunction with Jockey Wellbeing and Safety Officer Ron Hall and the program’s two Apprentice Jockey Coaches, Darren Gauci and Alf Matthews.
Whilst spending the next four years honing their race riding skills under Gauci and Matthews, the new apprentices will also receive specialist guidance from an expert team of physical trainers, nutritionists, physiotherapists and sports psychologists.