From cowboy to jockey – Michael Johnston rides first picnic winner

Michael Johnston rode his first winner at Wellington Picnics on Saturday, guiding Magic Gift home to win the 1000m Maiden Plate. Photo: Wellington Race Club NSW

Michael Johnston may have ridden bulls, saddlebroncs and cutting horses during his time as travelling cowboy, but the picnic jockey was the first to admit it would be hard to find a better feeling than riding his first winner at the picnics. 

“It was awesome,” Johnston said. 

“During the race, it felt like trackwork, but after we got back and I had finished and it really hit me, it felt really good and just hard to explain.”

The 21-year-old was able to boot home his first win at only his fifth career ride at Wellington picnics on Saturday, guiding the Peter Stanley trained, Magic Gift, to the winning post in the 1000m Maiden Plate. 

“It was great to ride my first winner for Peter Stanley, we have got so close and he said he wanted to get me my first winner and that’s what he has done,” Johnston said. 

“Riding my first winner at Wellington was a bonus, I ride a lot of track work there and it is my home track.”

Johnston is quite the character, having been born in Texas, and brought up in Dubbo, before spending time in Northern NSW until he found his true calling as a jockey. 

“I’m from Texas but grew up in Dubbo and I have always been around horses,” Johnston said. 

“I moved up north and was breaking horses in at Tamworth and I moved back to Wellington and I was riding trackwork there.”

After it was suggested to him that he should look at taking up an amateur’s riding licence, Johnston jumped at the chance, and after only two meetings at Gilgandra and Wellington, the young hoop now has a taste for the picnic racing scene. 

“I was riding trackwork at Wellington and a few people said, ‘why don’t you get your picnic licence?’, so I thought about it and I decided it would be good fun,” Johnston explained. 

“I know I will never be able to do my apprenticeship because I’m too tall and I’m 61kg at the moment, but I will be trying to get to all the picnic meetings.” 

Johnston does envision one day training horses, but for the moment, the former cowboy is keeping his feet grounded as he learns more about the industry. 

“I would love to get my trainer’s licence in a few years’ time, and that is what I’ll aim for in the future,” Johnston said. 

“At the moment, I will stick to riding and get to know the sport and the people some more.” 

While ecstatic to have ridden his first winner, and with plenty more wins no doubt on the horizon, Johnston did thank those who had helped him get to the track. 

“I want to thank everyone that has helped me along the way,” Johnston said.

“People like Kath Bell-Pitomac and Peter Stanley, they have really helped me with my style of riding.”

In what turned out to be a great card of picnic racing at Wellington, leading NSW amateur jockey, Maddy Wright, wouldn’t be outdone, riding the first two winners on the card for Dubbo trainer, Clint Lundholm.  

Wright guided Nepenthes to a win in the 1600m Class B Handicap and Tells Tails to a very strong win in the 1000m Class B Handicap. 

Leandro Ribiero also rode a Wellington double, helping Justin Stanley’s, The Rouseabout, to a win in the 1400m Class B Handicap and Karen Lunn’s, Arraign, to a good win in the 1400m Maiden Plate. 

In the feature event on the day, the $5000 Open Trophy race over 1400m, Michael Wade combined with Paul Clisby to win aboard Captain Jimmy.  

Picnic racing returns to Bedgerabong next Saturday, February 13.