Heidi Gillie isn’t your typical apprentice jockey.
At 26 years of age, the Victorian boasts a little more life experience than other apprentices, while she mixes her time between race riding and bodybuilding.
The young hoop has an interesting back story too, having spent her formative years under the watchful eye of Ciaron Maher, and she touched on how she first got involved in racing.
“I’m from Warrnambool in Victoria, and from a non-racehorse family, but my sisters and I had ponies, and we lived on the same road as Ciaron Maher,” Gillie said.
“We all used to race past Ciaron’s house, and one day he knocked on our door and offered us a job.
“My younger sister (Kim) was too young, but me and my older sister (Beth) started riding for him, and I was 13 when I started out.”
Gillie worked with Maher, then Mitch Freedman, before eventually kicking off her apprenticeship with Maher, and she was soon in the winner’s circle after guiding Court Room to her first victory at Pakenham back in August of 2021.
The young hoop rode in Victoria until late 2021, and after a small break, she returned to racing in NSW earlier last year, which led her to a loan period with Brett Cavanough’s stable in Ballina.
“I was in Melbourne with Ciaron, and I outrode my four-kilo claim, and I got transferred to his Sydney stable to come ride in the country, because Victoria is only provincial,” Gillie said.
“I could not get a go in Sydney, and I went up north on loan to Brett Cavanough, and I’ve got about three weeks left with him before my next step.
“I got a new manager in Brett Adkins when I got up here, and he obviously knows a lot and I ring him after every race and I’m learning a lot from him, and all my rides are coming from him as well, and he has been a great help.”
Since her move up north, the victories have been piling up, with the three-kilogram claimer riding five winners in March, including a double on her new home track on March 4 before recent wins at Grafton, Coffs Harbour, and Ballina again, and while Gillie is enjoying the success, she wants to keep both feet firmly on the ground.
“Ballina is very quiet lifestyle wise, and all I want to do is ride and bang home winners, and now I’m definitely getting a go, and it’s all I ever wanted to do, and it’s great,” Gillie said.
“I still feel like I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’ve only had 100 rides, and I want to get stronger, make quicker decisions, and be more confident in myself in making those decisions.
“Getting a few winners does give you confidence, and you realise you aren’t completely hopeless but with every good day comes four bad ones, so you try and take the good with the bad.”
The Victorian looks well-placed in Northern NSW, and she is dreaming of one day making her mark as a metropolitan jockey.
“I want to outride my country claim, that’s the main focus,” Gillie said.
“As far as my long-term goals, on a Saturday, I don’t want to be travelling out to the bush, but I want to be a Saturday city jockey and I want to be racing consistently in the city as a senior, but I’ve got a bit to do first.”
While she wants to become a metropolitan jockey, Gillie also loves her bodybuilding, and she has incorporated her training routine in with her trackwork and race riding responsibilities.
“I am also a bodybuilder, and I’m only 153cm, so my weight is generally okay, but sometimes it all catches up on me, and I have to take some rest days,” Gillie said.
“I am pretty good at getting my gym sessions in every week and around my race days, and I feel very fit, and I’ve got good cardio, but I wouldn’t say the strength side of it correlates too much to riding; it’s a different type of conditioning.”
Gillie’s bodybuilding doesn’t get in the way of her racing either; in fact, she believes it helps her keep a good balance.
“You have to have an outlet with racing, because it can be all racing, racing and racing,” Gillie said.
“The gym is my outlet, and my hobby, and I think as a jockey, I need that.”
The young hoop will be hoping to keep up her good form in the saddle next week, and while she is off to the Gold Coast on Saturday, she ventures to Grafton on Monday for three rides.