Irish jockey Courtney Ferris won’t be resting on her laurels over the holiday break as the four-kilogram claiming apprentice attempts to win her first race at Quirindi on Boxing Day and Orange on Thursday.
The Sydney-based jockey, who’s ‘more worried about hitting a kangaroo’ on her travels than the actual long trips into country NSW, is looking forward to showcasing her skills.
“I’m keen to travel to most places and get my name out there,” Ferris told NSW Country and Picnic Racing.
“I understand I have to start with travelling and taking rides in the country. I’ve only ever been in the Sydney region, apart from three months in Melbourne, and haven’t seen much of Australia.”
The 29-year-old debuted on Melbourne Cup Day, riding for her current boss, Gary Portelli, when guiding Frosty Jo to fourth at Canberra.
The apprentice loved every part of the experience and has started reaching out to other trainers for more rides.
“It was a really good experience, and obviously, I was as green as the horse, and she was as green as me,” Ferris laughed.
“She was having her first start, but I knew her quite well, and I got around; looking back, I made a few little mistakes, but I’ll learn from it and hopefully improve.
“After that, I was just a bit slow to get going, to be honest, and I probably wasn’t on the ball about ringing trainers and looking for rides.
“I thought it would be more of a breeze and that Gary would give me a few more, but we didn’t have the runners, so I only started doing that a week and a half ago.”
Riding at Quirindi, Ferris will team up with Craig Martin and Stephen Dixon, taking four rides on the non-TAB program.
She makes her Orange debut two days later, riding for Pat Murphy and Portelli.
“I’m really happy with the chances at both meetings,” Ferris said.
“I haven’t spoken to the trainer (Martin), but Miss Nicolini looks good (at Quirindi), and I’ve done my own bit of form, and she’s got a good gate, and she is a five-year-old mare that should know what to do.
“I’m excited to ride for Pat (at Orange); he’s basically said to me that he (El Lago) should be a sit-and-steer ride.”
While she is just starting as a jockey, Ferris is an experienced horsewoman, having jumped horses in Ireland before spending more than four years with Chris Waller’s team.
“I’ve been here for five and a bit years now,” Ferris said.
“I initially came out with my ex-boyfriend for a couple of weddings, and well, we split up, and I stayed here anyway.
“I started working at Randwick for Michael Freedman and was on a working holiday, and then went over to Rosehill but could only stay there for six months because that’s all you’re allowed to do on a working holiday.
“When my six months was up, I went to Chris Waller, and he sponsored me, and I was with him for the next four and a half years.
“He actually offered to sign me up as an apprentice a year and a half ago, and I did all my trials with him.
“I probably had about 50 trials, and I am very grateful for the trial rides; they were luxury horses to ride.”
Waller and his team honed in on Ferris’ knowledge of jumps racing, turning the Irishwoman into an up-and-coming flat apprentice jockey.
“Before I came to Australia, I show jumped back home, worked out at a National Hunt stable, and did jumps racing, but I had never ridden a flat horse until riding in Australia,” Ferris said.
“I was a bit inexperienced, but I’ve definitely learned a lot in my time here.”
While Waller gave Ferris a good grounding in the sport, the young hoop needed to look elsewhere for rides and recently transferred to the Portelli yard at Warwick Farm.
“I couldn’t really start at his stable as he doesn’t have the right horses, so I left and moved to Gary Portelli’s,” Ferris said.
“I’ve been there for about four months. They train a little bit differently, and I’ve definitely picked up a few different methods.”
Ferris believes she is in a position to succeed as a jockey and will be calling on her life experience and travels across the world.
“I know I’m not an 18-year-old apprentice, but I feel like I’ve got a bit more experience behind me,” Ferris said.
“In terms of what I want to do with my career and life, I know what I want to do, and I just feel like kids sometimes want to be a jockey, and in a few years, they don’t, but at my age, I know this is what I want to do.
“I’ve travelled a bit, worked in Germany, and I’m settled here and ready to kick start my career.”
The Irish jockey won’t be heading home any time soon, and she is committed to making a name for herself in Australia.
“I am here for the long term. I have my permanent residency, which was the goal, and the plan is to see how I go and stay here for the next six months, and then possibly look at travelling out to the country and being based there for a little bit,” Ferris said.
“For now, I want to stay where I am comfortable for a while and get up and going because I don’t mind travelling to the races.
“Once I’m up and going, I obviously want to ride out my claim, still be riding in four or five years, and hopefully be competitive in the metro areas.”
For the moment, meetings at Quirindi and Orange will be her Ferris’ focus.
For Quirindi fields, click here.
For Orange fields, click here.