Ella Drew enjoys ‘wonderful moment’ with maiden Muswellbrook winner

Ella Drew had every reason to smile after winning her first race at Muswellbrook on Friday. Image: Bradley Photos.

Having journeyed down the road less taken to an apprenticeship, it was a rewarding moment for Ella Drew when she rode her first winner at Muswellbrook on Friday. 

The 34-year-old, indentured to Jan Bowen in Muswellbrook, was having only her third ride, but a poised four-kilogram claimer was triumphant on Iron Hat in the 1000m Benchmark 66 Handicap. 

Driving to the front from gate five, the race was a one-act affair as Drew and Iron Hat cruised to a five-length victory.

“It was just a real sense of closure,” Drew told NSW Country and Picnic Racing when asked how she felt after winning her first race. 

“I could hear everyone yelling, and I gave a quick look behind me, hoping there weren’t jockeys coming up; that’s when I realised I was quite a long way in front.

“It was a wonderful moment, and I just loved the feeling of going out there and showcasing the horse for what I know he is capable of doing.

“He is such an old hand, and everyone loves the horse; he could be a trail horse or pony ride one day and then race the next.

“He’s such a dude, and he babysits all the babies, so to win on him was pretty special.”

Although she is not from a racing background, the New Zealand-born jockey has had quite a journey to her apprenticeship and life in Australia. 

Raised in Christchurch, Drew made her way by doing odd jobs at an eventing stable to get lessons before eventually travelling all over the country.

“My parents weren’t horse people, and I would ride my bike 40 minutes on a gravel road to muck out paddocks, and in lieu of payment, I did it for a lesson a week,” Drew said.
“My first time eventing was when I was 13, and I was a two-star by 17. 

“I travelled all around the country with my ex-steeplechaser to groom my boss’s horses, just to ride my one, and it lit something in me, and I’ve always been competitive in that sense.”

Drew was always destined to work with horses, and she admitted that racing was a good fit for her due to her background and small stature. 

“I had quite a few years off riding, a good eight years, but I’ve always wanted to be a rider,” Drew said. 

“I guess you could say I was just returning to my roots after coming to Australia and trying a few different things. 

“Working with horses is where I’m happiest, and it made sense to forge a career there, and being the size I am at 5’1and 49kg, this industry is where I needed to put my effort.”

“So eventually, I bit the bullet, moved to Scone in 2019, and started learning trackwork.”

Kicking off with Jan Bowen, Justin Bowen, and Pat Farrell in Muswellbrook, Drew learned her craft before taking it to the next level following a stint riding in Sydney. 

“I was with Jan and Pat for quite a while and started my pre-apprenticeship there, and I was grateful for that opportunity, but I knew I needed to go into the city to get that exposure,” Drew said. 

“I was so lucky to go to Chris Waller and experience what it was like to ride the thoroughbred version of a Ferrari, and that was a wonderful experience. 

“I was down in the city for 18 months, with Chris for nine months and Blake Ryan for another nine months. 

“With both Chris and Blake, it was so interesting to see how a horse is produced to that calibre and to understand how they move and how they’re prepared.

“Then I got through all my trial rides with Blake, and Jan offered me the opportunity to come back and start racing riding in the country.

“It was another great opportunity to be based in the country and with a trainer with such good horses.”

After returning to Bowen’s stable in December, Drew said she was more confident in her abilities when riding track work at Muswellbrook.

“I’ve always taken the road less travelled, and I like to check every box, cross every t, and dot every i,” she said. 

“I knew something was calling me to the city, and I always thought I’d love to be a fly on a wall in there; it always sparked my interest, and now, knowing what it’s like there, I know this is where I need to be.

“I can bring that knowledge back here, and I’ve got so much more confidence in my trackwork. 

“Plus, it is such a joy to ride these horses and to produce them in trials and races; it’s very personally rewarding.”

In terms of what the future holds, Drew is taking it day by day but is loving life in Muswellbrook, where she has a strong support network.

“I have such a joy for what I do on a really intrinsic level,” she said. 

“Of course, who doesn’t have hopes and dreams of rising through the ranks, outriding their claim in the country, and reaching those city ranks? 

“Still, to make it all possible, you need a stable like I’ve got to back you.
“I am just so lucky that Pat, Jan, and Justin are putting me on their good horses, enabling me to have that moment. 

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe it takes an entire racetrack to raise an apprentice, so you need trainers behind you.”

Drew backed up again at Gunnedah on Monday, and the apprentice is excited to continue the early stages of her career in the coming weeks and months.