This was the moment that would change everything for Rachel King. The toughest part was making the call.
It was seven years ago and Gai Waterhouse implored King to ring Jim Cassidy for riding advice. She was an apprentice jockey at the time, learning her trade on the rough ‘n’ tumble of NSW’s country racing circuit.
But King felt uncomfortable, almost intimidated. Cassidy is riding royalty, a Hall of Fame jockey with more than 100 Group 1 wins and he’s regarded as one of Australian racing’s all-time greats.
Rachel King has ridden more than 400 winners. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“I had met Jim at trackwork and ridden with him a couple of times but I had barely spoken a word to him,’’ King said. “Still, Gai was insistent and she told me to ring him. It took me a while to build up the courage to pick up the phone. But I remember Jim was so good about it and he went out of his way to help me.
“He was still riding at the time and wasn’t necessarily watching many country races but he would study replays of all my rides and go through them with me. When I see Jim these days, we always have a laugh and a good chat. He’s always there for advice and support.’’
Cassidy is a good teacher and King a good learner. She won a Sydney apprentice premiership three seasons ago, she is a Group 1 winner herself and has already ridden the winners of more than 400 races.
King is now acknowledged as one of Sydney’s most outstanding jockeys, she’s flying high on the premiership rankings and is in demand with all the leading stables.
Hall of Fame jockey Jim Cassidy is a big supporter of Rachel King. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
At Royal Randwick on Saturday, King has another top book of eight rides including Golden Eagle winner Colette in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes (1400m).
King is having a breakout season and has ridden 40 winners already going into Canterbury on Friday night.
She is in third position on the Sydney premiership behind Tommy Berry (63 wins) and will smash her career-best of 44 city wins from last season which, for the first time, gave her a top 10 premiership ranking at season’s end.
Cassidy isn’t surprised that King has continued to rise through the riding ranks and believes she is capable of becoming the first female rider to win the Sydney jockey premiership.
“Rachel King is a star, she is the most improved jockey in Australia and she could win the premiership next season,’’ Cassidy said.
“She rides light so she gets plenty of rides, she sits well on them and horses travel better for her than 90 percent of jockeys in Sydney at the moment.
“She doesn’t make many mistakes, either. The ones she does make, she has the ability to overcome them and that’s what makes her so good.’’
Rachel King is third in the Sydney jockeys’ premiership. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Cassidy said he always felt King was destined to do well in Sydney racing.
“When Rachel started riding work at Gai’s, she was a natural even then,’’ Cassidy said.
“I saw her at trackwork the other day and told her I was very proud of her and what she is achieving.’’
King is now reaping the benefits of Waterhouse’s very deliberate strategy all those years ago.
When Englishwoman King first came to Australia for a working holiday, it was Waterhouse who convinced her to stay and take out a riding apprenticeship.
But it was also Waterhouse who then sent King “bush”, making her ride at country non-TAB meetings which is about as far removed from the glitz and glamour of Royal Randwick on Apollo Stakes Day as you can get.
“When I was an apprentice, I was in a hurry and wanted to get to the next level but Gai didn’t let me ride in town until lost my provincial claim and I didn’t ride at the provincials until I lost my country claim,’’ King said.
Gai Waterhouse convinced Rachel King to take out a riding apprenticeship. Picture: Glenn HampsonSource:News Corp Australia
“At the time, I remember thinking why is Gai making me do this? But Gai kept me very grounded and I’ve said to numerous apprentices since it was the best thing she ever did for me. When I did start riding in the city against the likes of Hugh Bowman and James McDonald, I wasn’t intimidated, instead I felt I was ready to ride against them.’’
King has continued to rise up the Sydney premiership rankings ever since, her lofty ranking this season a direct result of her talent and hard work.
At the start of the 2020-21 season, King didn’t set herself any specific goals except to continue to “learn and improve” her riding.
When you combine this mantra with her voracious appetite work, then it is a recipe for success.
“My manager, Shaun Flaherty, works harder than anyone I know, he is doing a fantastic job, and I’m doing my bit by working hard at the trials and trackwork,’’ King said.
“We are putting the groundwork in behind the scenes which I’m sure helps on raceday. Shaun has been a bit stricter in the way we have been picking and choosing rides. We are lucky to have more choices now.
Rachel King has attracted the attention of the leading stables in Sydney. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“It is nice when you are being offered the choice of rides but I hate having to choose as I don’t like letting people down and Shaun is the same. We try to be fair to everyone.
“Sometimes, we are going to choose the right way, but if we make a decision and we go the wrong way, then so be it.
“I can deal with that and move on to the next ride and the next raceday.’’
Flaherty revealed that King has also quietly and efficiently overcome the gender bias against female jockeys.
“She did lose rides because she is female but the perception of her is changing,’’ he said.
Godolphin trainer James Cummings was one of the first leading Sydney stables to recognise King’s talents.
When King got the opportunity to start wearing Godolphin’s famous royal blue colours, it also provided her with an opportunity to form a close association with Cummings’s right-hand man, another former riding great, Hall of Famer Darren Beadman.
Rachel King and former champion jockey Darren Beadman (right) with Australian golfer Matt Jones. Picture: Grant GuySource:News Corp Australia
“Darren is a great help and a mentor for me at Godolphin,’’ King said. “He is always watching my riding and doesn’t let me get away with anything.
“But Darren has a knack of being able to ask the right questions to help my riding. It’s easy to tell someone when they have done something wrong but it is much harder to tell someone how to do it right. Darren is very good at telling you how to improve and what to try next time.’’
With the right role models and mentors advising her, King’s on-track success is soaring. She’s also got her work-life balance in order.
King is engaged to fellow Group 1-winning jockey Blake Spriggs with the couple hoping to wed in England later this year if the Covid situation improves sufficiently in the northern hemisphere.
Rachel King and her partner Blake Spriggs. Picture: Tim HunterSource:News Corp Australia
The couple are each other’s greatest supporter but they are careful not to allow racing to “over-run” their personal lives.
“Blake is a huge help to me,’’ King said. “We will watch our rides together and help each other as much as possible but we try to keep it to a minimum as we have a life outside of racing. We don’t want to always bring our work home but it is inevitable we do talk about racing.’’
During the second half of the season, King is set-up to build on her brilliant start and hopes to cement her top three premiership ranking.
“I’m very grateful for the continued support from owners and trainers, so I’m just trying to keep that momentum going,’’ King said.
And to think, it all began with that phone call.
Originally published asThe phone call that put King on path to glory
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