Given her “journey”, jockey Lizzie Annells’ fifth ever race win – at Port Lincoln recently – was more significant than most would realise.
Lizzie’s win aboard Swing It Sister on Port Lincoln Cup day meant she had finally outridden her 4kg claim (now reduced to 3kg) and she was pumped, as her post-race interview with Racing.com showed.
The five-win figure is generally a tick-the-boxes affair for most apprentices, but for Lizzie it was an important step forward in a career that – like most of her colleagues – has been anything but straightforward.
“To be honest, I kind of felt a little bit silly for being so excited about it, because, you know, most people get that off their back pretty quickly,” she said.
“Not to sound like a pity party, but it’s been a difficult journey for me. I got held back from the apprentice school four or so times, I’ve had a couple of different trainers turn me down for an apprenticeship, so just getting those five winners was a pretty big thing.
“A lot of people probably didn’t think I’d do it, so it was exciting.”
Like a sputtering lawnmower, Lizzie’s career took a few attempted starts before springing to life.
She started her association with local trainer Gordon Richards in January 2018, but missed intakes – for different reasons – at the apprentice academy. She finally landed an apprenticeship in June 2019.
“It took a fair while,” she said.
“Gordon was basically throwing jump outs at me. Poor old White Kaps jumped out four times before he had a race, just so I could have a ride.”
Lizzie, now 22, finally had her first race ride at Jamestown in late October last year, and wasted little time landing her first winner – in just her ninth race ride at Gawler on Finniss Moment.
However, it has remained a challenging road since, with race-day opportunities few and far between. Swing It Sister’s Port Lincoln win was her sole ride of the day, while she recently made the long round trip to Naracoorte for a single – unplaced – ride.
She posted her sixth win at the non-TAB Penong Cup meeting on March 14, acting as party pooper for Claudia Lions, who was on track to ride the card, until Lizzie saluted in the final race on Zaazoe.
The lack of opportunities is a challenge, but she is determined to persist.
“It’s hard at the moment because I’m only getting one ride here and there, but I’m just making the most of what I can,” she said.
“Kayla Crowther said to me the other day that I actually had the second-best strike rate… not because I’m riding a lot of winners, but because I’m producing results from the few rides that I do have.
“Because it’s taken me so long to get winners due to my lack of rides, it’s probably going to take me a bit longer than I would like to get my metro ticket. Not for least six months, and maybe not this year.
“But when I do get it, I hope it’ll open up some opportunities, because I work at Morphettville.
“They’re obviously all metro trainers… and Gordon said he’ll be able to give me some metro rides when I’m ready for it.
“But that’s a while off…”
For the time being, Lizzie is determined to keep persisting, and is aware of all those before her who have done it similarly tough.
“I feel like I’m working from the bottom up, but the way I was brought up, you don’t quit,” she said.
“I think everyone’s been in this predicament one time or another. You even get senior jockeys who might have a good run, then a bad run. It’s just how racing is.
“I’ll just keep trying to make the most of the few rides that I have.”
Lizzie’s interest in horses only sprung to life as a teenager.
“My uncle had a horse out the back of his property that I ‘met’ when I was about 13 and that gave me the bug,” she said.
“Then I bought my own pony when I was 16…
“When I left school I didn’t want to go to uni, so I actually started my farrier course at TAFE, but I wasn’t in a great place at that time… and I actually had to drop out of that course.
“But I felt I had to do something, so I actually transferred into the track riding course, which was significantly cheaper, and that was kind of my accidental start into racing.
“I got a couple of opportunities from a couple of stables. I was kind of battling away but getting nowhere, then Gordon saw me one day and said, ‘If you want to be my apprentice start in two weeks’ and it’s gone from there.”
Lizzie said she remains grateful of the support from Gordon Richards, Garrett Lynch and Shylie Williams, plus other trainers who have put her aboard their horses.
Earlier this year, Lizzie was among those to lend support to Adelaide Hills’ residents affected by the bushfires, helping to deliver water and feed to properties devastated by the fires.