Family affair as Shae Wilkes celebrates winning debut 

Shae Wilkes receives some last-minute instructions from her father and trainer, Wayne Wilkes, before winning on Cool Duke at Tuncurry on Saturday.

Debuts don’t come much better; just ask Taree-based apprentice Shae Wilkes. 

Riding for her father, Wayne Wilkes, and with her brother Joel leading her around on first starter Cool Duke, the 24-year-old was able to boot home a memorable maiden victory at Tuncurry-Forster Jockey Club on Saturday. 

“I was pretty thrilled,” Shae Wilkes told NSW Country and Picnic Racing. 

“It still hasn’t hit me yet that it has actually happened.”

It was a compelling finish, with Wilkes made to work hard for the victory. 

After jumping Cool Duke out nicely from gate nine, she was forced to course two-and-three-wide, staying out of trouble in the 1000m Maiden Plate. 

Down the Tuncurry straight, the four-year-old Frosted gelding got through the soft seven conditions and, with a well-timed run, won by a nose from the Pat Farrell-trained Atoka (Chelsea Hillier, $13) while in third and a length-and-a-quarter back was the Terry Evans-trained Royal Teens (Darryl McLellan, $3.20).

“I didn’t know I had won and thought I might have just missed it, and it wasn’t until I was pulling up around the back and heard it over the speaker that 1 had beat 11 and so forth, and that’s when the emotions kicked in,” Shae said. 

“I had the biggest smile on my face I’ve ever had, and my brother led the horse in, and when I saw him, there were a lot of emotions going on, and I was trying really hard not to cry.”

It was a proud moment for Dad, who’s been by Shae’s side during her long road to an apprenticeship. 

“She has had over 50 trial rides to get to this point, and she benefited from all that and her work ethic when winning that race,” Wayne said.

“It was a proud moment as a parent and father, especially after watching her struggles to get to this point and what she has had to do and sacrifice to be a jockey.”

While Shae is from a racing family, becoming an apprentice, let alone winning her first race, was more challenging than some might think. 

Taking the road less travelled, Wilkes dropped close to 30 kilograms over a long period in order to live out her dream of being a jockey.

“It took a lot of hard work for me to get to where I am now, and when I won, it was a relief and a weight off my shoulders, knowing that I’ve finally made it,” Shae said. 

“It’s probably taken me two-and-a-half-years, and I’ve lost nearly 30kg, and there’s been a lot of battles along the way: mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

“A lot of times, I wanted to give up because it was hard, but I had a lot of people reassuring me I had the talent and that it would all work out one day. 

“Getting that win on Saturday and riding it for Dad definitely made it all worthwhile.”

Cool Duke was well-prepared for his first race, winning a trial at Tuncurry late last month. 

Wayne explained that they had discussed different circumstances, which had Shae ready to handle anything thrown her way on Saturday.

“We weren’t 100% sure of how much pace was going to be in the race, and we were drawn wide, and the instructions were to be positive out of the gates,” Wayne said. 

“We went through different circumstances, and there was a plan A, B, and C, with one plan to lead, the other plan to sit behind the leader, and the other plan just in case they bombed the start.

“She rode him well after being caught a bit wide, and when they got to the line, I was confident she had got the bob of the head in, and it wasn’t until I watched the replay that I realised she had won easier than I had first thought.”
Wayne believes his daughter, previously a foreperson for the Wilkes Racing team, has a unique perspective on training a racehorse, which should set her up well to be a successful jockey.

“As soon as she left school, she started riding work for me, and she is that bit older and wiser,” Wayne said. 

“Even when she left school, she wanted to be a jockey but didn’t want to rush into it straight away. 

“She wanted to live life a little bit, and that showed a bit of maturity, but over the last few years, she’s worked hard and been my foreman.”

The Taree trainer has seen the highs and lows of racing and knows all too well the dangers of being a jockey, but the father of four was never going to step in the way of Shae’s ambitions. 

“With kids, if they want to do something, you can’t stop them,” Wayne said. 

“You have to be there, and if they fall down, you pick them up and let them do what they want.

“It’s their life, and I’ve just got to be there for Shae.” 

With a level head on her shoulders and Dad in her corner, Shae looks destined to make her mark as a jockey, but she isn’t rushing anything.

“At the moment, I am just taking it one step at a time,” Shae said.

“I’ll aim to lose my 4kg allowance, then my 3kg, and eventually, I’d like to go down to Sydney.

“Dad has always said that when I get to the point of being ready to go to Sydney, he would like to send me down there to the right trainers, but that’s a long-term goal. 

“At this stage of my career, I am taking it one day at a time.”

Wayne and Shae were due to try their luck with two more chances at Kempsey on Monday before the meeting was abandoned due to the recent wet weather.

The stable does have King Kikau entered for the 2300m Benchmark 64 Handicap at Newcastle on Friday.