From the picnics to professional: Zara Lewis ready for Merriwa debut

Zara Lewis after winning aboard the Darren Egan trained Waterbom in the 800m Maiden Plate at Bourke on April 4. Photo: Racing Photography.

It has been a long, hard road for jockey, Zara Lewis, who will live out a lifelong dream at Merriwa tomorrow when she makes her professional riding debut. 

The 19-year-old will jump aboard Uno Ruby in the first race, the 1000m Benchmark 45 Handicap, for Gilgandra trainer and Master, Bryan Dixon.

“I’ve got nearly a full book of his rides on Saturday, but I didn’t think I would get here so quickly,” Lewis said.

“It is definitely good to finally start it (my apprenticeship) – all the hard work has paid off.”

Lewis, who jumps aboard four of Dixon’s runners at Merriwa on Saturday, will ride another five for the stable at Nyngan on Sunday.

Funnily enough, it was only earlier this month that Lewis was still riding at the picnics at Bourke, before finally getting approval from Racing NSW to start her apprenticeship. 

“I only found out two days before Bourke and there were mixed emotions,” Lewis said. 

“I was so happy, but I didn’t really want to celebrate because I had a picnic meeting left, but after the races, it was exciting to think about.”

Lewis acknowledged that there would be more pressure on her to perform at the professionals, but after winning races at Forbes, Condobolin and Bourke as an amateur hoop, she believes she has a slight advantage when carrying a four-kilogram claim on Saturday.

“There will be a little bit more pressure stepping up from the picnics, but they are the same horses I am used to riding every day,” Lewis said. 

“It’s been good going to the picnics and gaining that experience and winning some races. I’ve been on a lot of different tracks and I’ve ridden most of these horses at the picnics.”

Lewis said that riding was in her blood, being the daughter of former country hoop, Virginia Heron, and is the younger sister of the popular NSW country apprentice, Yvette Lewis.

“My mum was a jockey as well and it would be good to follow in her footsteps and have the next generation out there,” Lewis said. 

While a winning debut at Merriwa is the dream, doing a good job for the stable is Lewis’ main goal tomorrow.

“I would like to ride some winners, that is the goal and I imagine every jockey would like to ride winners,” Lewis said.

“Getting around safe, and getting every horse around is what’s important and I just want to have fun and enjoy my first meeting, and if I get a winner, that will be a bonus.”

One challenge Lewis touched on was the fact that she would be riding more regularly compared to the picnics.   

“The picnics, they are on once a month or so, but now, I’m going to be riding every weekend and it will be a lot more work to stay consistent, plus I won’t have that extra time in between to practice and work on myself,” Lewis said. 

“In the same respect, the more meetings I ride at, the more I will learn.” 

In what will be a hectic start to her riding career, the rides will surely keep coming with a big Dixon stable set to offer Lewis ample opportunities to ride winners all over country NSW.