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Spotlight On: Raquel Clark

She was good enough to lead the Tasmanian Jockeys Premiership, spend three months on the sidelines and still finish runner up after injury. Good enough to win at complicated Oakbank at her first ride around undulating Hills course and then land a quadrella of winners at Morphettville. And good enough for master trainer Leon Macdonald to offer her the chance to extend her South Australian stay in June.

It hasn't been all success and good fortune for the Burnie-born former rodeo rider. After starting race riding in June 2015 at the age of 21, Raquel made a huge impact to be a runaway leader in the Tasmanian premiership before being thrown and trampled at Spreyton in December that year. She was put into an induced coma after suffering head, neck and chest injuries. The Jockeys Premiership was gone as Tasmanian champion David Pires raced past her but she still easily won the Apprentices' title with 54 winners in her first year. Most importantly, she regained her health and was back riding winners within three months.

A burgeoning career attracting interest from all over Australia was given its best chance to develop when Raquel took the punt and decided to try her luck in SA. She realised it would be too tough to break into the Melbourne scene without a claim helping her
at the provincials and had been encouraged to head to Adelaide.

"I'd lost a bit of drive in Tasmania and needed a challenge because I don't believe I was giving riding my best shot," she candidly recalls. "I had a lot of people recommend a move to Adelaide. Leon Wells, who has helped me a lot along with the Wells family, and Matt Hyland both said I'd do best in Adelaide so I thought I'd give it a try."

The first few weeks went slowly but things soon began to fall into place for the young rider. After winning the first at Oakbank on Easter Saturday, the winners came regularly as she picked up rides from the Leon Macdonald-Andrew Gluyas yard, John Hickmott and a few other local stables.

What started as a three-month try-out in Adelaide was extended in June, when she signed over her indentures to Macdonald. It was a great opportunity, particularly in view of the fact she had lost her provincial claim and needed to be attached to a prominent city stable.

Raquel had the best day of her career when she landed the first four winners at Morphettville in June - three of them for the boss. She had the chance to make it five later in the day and four for the stable but Daytona Grey could manage only a credible fifth at his first run back.

"It all came together for me," she recalls. "Clare (Lindop) was in Melbourne so I got some great rides and Emily Finnegan had a lot of good rides for her stable so she bet me a snickers bar she could ride more winners. I had it won half way through the meeting, the lesson here is don't bet chocolate with me."

It's been a remarkable transition for Raquel, who came to racing as a mature -age apprentice from the left-field rodeo arena. The hard yards on the rodeo circuit, however, have stood her in great stead as she's overcome injury and setback to make her mark.

"I worked for a horse-breaking company in Tasmania, rode my first rodeo race in Queensland and then did barrel racing and roping around Tasmania and Victoria," she says. "It makes you tough so everything rolls off your shoulders that should roll off your shoulders. It was a great background for learning to deal with the rigours of horse racing."

Barely into the third year of her apprenticeship, it's all in front of the resilient young rider who wants to be known as much for her tactical skills as her toughness. She's ridden well over 100 winners at a strike rate of 15 per cent.

"It's been a great learning curve coming to Adelaide and I think my riding has improved," she says.

"Some of the jockeys have been very supportive too. Jamie Kah offered advice and to look at replays with me for pointers early on and she's been great. She wins her races during the race with tactics and that's what I'm aiming to achieve. I'm getting opportunities with Leon, who told me early on that I'd make it over here if I put in the work. And he makes you work for it. But I love working there, he has a really good stable of people as well as horses."

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