Determined Cejay Graham making her mark

Port Macquarie product Cejay Graham has enjoyed her move to Queensland. Image – Darren Winningham.

If you were to search for the definition of resilience or determination in the dictionary, there should be a photo of Cejay Graham accompanying either of them. 

The 25-year-old apprentice, who commenced riding in 2017, has experienced the lowest lows in the racing industry.

Two separate incidents where she broke her wrist, along with suffering compression fractures to vertebrae in her neck when she was dislodged at Lismore in 2021, means she has spent her fair share of time out of the saddle. 

“You want to believe everything happens for a reason,” Graham told NSW Country and Picnic Racing. 

“Maybe if I had flown through my apprenticeship, I wouldn’t have been ready for other things that have happened during my career. 

“I have always been a determined person, and not in one of those falls did I ever think, ‘This will be the end’, and I was always thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get back and to be out there’, riding every day, and doing what I love.

“I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but none of those downs compare to the high that I’m in at the moment; it’s all been worth it to get to where I am.”

Graham’s motivation led her to a triumphant return to the saddle in late 2021, and during her stop-start career, the Port Macquarie product has registered an impressive 248 wins.

In 2023, the apprentice was mixing her time in Port Macquarie while making the five-and-a-half-hour trip to Brisbane twice a week.

In July, the opportunity to join Eagle Farm trainer Kelly Schweida came knocking, and the talented apprentice hit the ground running. 

With 36 wins to her name in 2023/24, Graham is third in the Queensland Jockey’s Premiership with 28 metropolitan victories, trailing only James Orman (49) and Ben Thompson (30).

She also leads the Queensland Apprentice Jockey’s Premiership with Bailey Wheeler (20 ½), her nearest rival.

“I’m loving it, and I wish I had moved sooner,” Graham said.

“It’s been great, and I love working here and riding for all the trainers. I get along with everyone; it’s been amazing.

“I really hope I can make my mark here and continue on when I do come out of my time; I can definitely see myself calling this place home.”

The daughter of Northern Rivers legend and champion country jockey Peter Graham, Cejay has had her parents visit her, but she admitted that she wasn’t planning on returning to NSW any time soon.

“It’s five hours back home, and Mum and Dad have been up and visited a lot,” Graham said. 

“I’d like to say I miss home a lot, but I really don’t, and I think it shows how much I’m enjoying life up here. 

“I’m putting roots down to stay. Don’t get me wrong, I miss being around my family, but they are close enough that we can visit regularly.”

Graham, who is now a 1.5kg claimer in town, boasting 40 metro wins in Queensland (29) and NSW (11), is still working hard to be the best jockey she can be as she looks to outride her claim.

“I’ve just dropped down to 1.5kg, and I was worried it might take away opportunities, but the number and quality of rides are still there,” Graham said. 

“All you can do as you lose that claim is ride the best you can.

“The claim helps and can hide mistakes, and while you’ve got the claim there, you need to take advantage of it, but when you don’t have as much of a claim, you need to start making fewer mistakes and keep improving as it drops.”

Male jockeys dominate the Queensland ranks, with Graham (28) and Angela Jones (16) the only women in the top ten for metropolitan jockeys.

Still, that only adds fuel to the fire, with Graham keen to show everyone she can match it, if not ride better than the fellas. 

I definitely enjoy the challenge and like to hold my ground, although you learn a lot from those boys,” Graham said. 

“Angela is the next girl in front of me making her mark, and she is a senior, and she doesn’t take any prisoners, and I’ll definitely try and do the same.”

While Graham is the one in the saddle, she credited much of her recent success to Schweida, who has fostered the young jockey’s talents.

“I definitely wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him taking me on in the first place,” Graham said.

“He’s been my rock and has been so great, and I’m just grateful to him for the opportunity.” 

In terms of future goals ahead of a big day at Eagle Farm on Saturday, Graham touched on what she wanted to achieve in the next 12 months. 

“The (Queensland Apprentice’s) premiership is right up there, and I’ve got my sights set on that,” Graham said. 

“Bailey is hot my tail, and I’ll do everything I can to fend him off.

“I’d love to win a Listed race and outride my claim, but mainly keep kicking goals when I come out of my time as an apprentice.”

The youngster will get her chance to win a Queensland feature race on Saturday when taking seven rides in Brisbane.

In the $300,000 The Star Gateway (1400m), Graham is on the Toby and Trent Edmonds-trained The Vowels ($13) and in the $160,000 Listed Bribie Handicap (1000m), she will ride the Tony and Maddysen Sears-trained Steady Ready ($7.50).