Nyssa Burrells unfortunately doesn’t have a miniature cup to savour for her victory on Zakeriz in last Friday’s Cootamundra Cup.
But if they were awarded for determination and courage, she would already have a cabinet full.
Fellow apprentice Jenny Duggan earned justified plaudits when she capped a remarkable comeback from serious injury by landing the $140,000 Listed City Tattersalls Club Cup on $20 outsider Torrens a day later at Royal Randwick.
Whilst the $29,000 Cootamundra Cup at the once-a-year country meeting – postponed from its original October 3 date – understandably didn’t carry the same profile, Burrells’ performance was absolutely just as deserving.
The 34-year-old almost lost her life in a shocking track accident at Warwick Farm four days after Christmas in 2017.
Burrells was admitted to Liverpool Hospital in a critical condition with multiple injuries after a horse she was riding in a jumpout on the course proper fell and then landed on her.
She suffered severe head injuries and was placed in an induced coma with bleeding on the brain and underwent emergency surgery.
It was touch and go for a while whether Burrells would survive, but her fighting spirit won the day.
“I don’t remember anything about the accident; all I know is what people who were there that morning later told me what happened,” she said yesterday.
“It was nearly a fortnight before I woke up, and it was two months before I was able to leave hospital.”
Burrells subsequently underwent extensive physiotherapy along with regular hospital visits – and two and a half long years passed before she returned to the saddle in June last year.
“I had to do tests to get my driver’s licence back, and I started riding work again,” Burrells said.
Getting her riding licence back, however, proved to be a horse of another colour.
“I rode in 60 barrier trials before the licensing committee at RacingNSW gave me the green light to resume riding in races.
“I passed all my trials and it was hard for sure. But the more trials I rode in the more stubborn I became that I wasn’t going to give up.”
Ironically, Burrells had no intention of becoming a jockey, especially as her family had no interest in racing.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but Ben Vassallo (former jockey) suggested that’s what I should do because I was small.
“The late Warwick Farm trainer Rick Worthington helped me get rides at the picnics and I started in 2008.”
Burrells competed in five of the six races at the Crookwell picnic meeting on April 5 that year, and at only her second ride greeted the judge on My Song for Menangle trainer Scott Wade.
She rode at the picnics for many years before graduating to the professional ranks in 2015, and became apprenticed to then Warwick Farm trainer Michael Costa (who is now based at the Gold Coast).
Burrells had ridden 14 winners in 2016-17 and 11 in the first five months of the 2017-18 season before her accident at year’s end.
Now living at Bargo with her partner Andrew Jenkyn, Burrells is apprenticed to former Canberra trainer Joseph Ible, who is now based at Kembla Grange.
She won the Bombala Cup on Destiny’s Dee Day at the non-TAB Sapphire Coast meeting last October, but the Cootamundra Cup was her breakthrough Cup success at a TAB meeting.
She would have been excused for kicking up a storm given what she has endured, but took it all in her stride.
“It was more relief than anything,” she said modestly. “This was my first winner this season, and it was good to get back in the winning list.”
Nor was she upset about missing out on a Cup trophy. “The key ring I got for winning the Cup is cute,” she added.
“I rode Zakeriz six days earlier at Wagga, and trainer Chris Hardy told me not to hold him up and let him run his own race as he had a tendency to hang out (he had been suspended a few times by stewards for doing that).
“They were happy with my ride at Wagga and left me on the horse at Cootamundra, and he never looked like getting beat once he rolled to the front.”
There was no chance for celebration either. Burrells had one ride at Mudgee the following day (the horse ran last of 11) and then drove to Newcastle on Monday for just one more ride on the Beaumont track (her mount started at $151 and finished 10th in a field of 12.
“I chase my own rides and when you are booked, you have to fulfil them whether it is only one ride or not,” she said. “You can’t let trainers and owners down.”
Burrells is one of Australia’s oldest apprentices – but may not be for much longer.
“I am due to come out of my time on December 10, and can seek an extension for another year,” she explained.
“But I am yet to decide if I will do that.”
Hoofnote: Zakeriz is a homebred and, as a seven-year-old, the Cootamundra Cup was his fourth win at only his 13th start.
Wagga trainer and part-owner Chris Hardy, who has only two horses in work, says he originally booked Burrells for the Cup mount at the earlier date (October 3) when no one seemed to want to ride him because of his reputation (hanging out).
“Nyssa had sent a couple of messages and, whilst her recent record hadn’t been the best, I thought everyone deserves a chance.
“We were very happy with how she rode him at Wagga and again at Cootamundra.”
Hardy is looking at bringing Zakeriz back to town for the $130,000 Country Classic (2000m) for four-year-olds and upwards at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday week.
And he is prepared to keep Burrells on the gelding if she is able to ride him.
What an even better story that will be if it comes to fruition – and she can hit the headlines this time in town by winning again on Zakeriz!