Millie Thompson was initially on the path to becoming a psychologist, with the Tamworth product well into her studies at the University of New England in Armidale.
It wasn’t to be for Thompson, and a sudden change of careers led the youngster to the racing industry before becoming an apprentice jockey.
On Saturday, the 24-year-old could not have asked for a better start to her career, with Thompson winning her first race at Tuncurry.
Teaming up with Muswellbrook-trainer Carlos Antonio, the Wyong-based jockey held her nerve, leading all the way for a thrilling victory on Damascus Gate ($6) in the 1400m Class Three Handicap.
The result was close, with Damascus Gate holding on to win by a nostril, and Thompson explained that she didn’t know she had won until returning to the winner’s circle.
“I was just focused, and I didn’t even know I had officially won,” Thompson told NSW Country and Picnic Racing.
“After your first ride, you’re a bit puffed, and I was still catching my breath when I was trotting back, and then I heard the crowd yelling out my name and number.
“It was very exciting; my parents, brother, aunt, and uncle made the trip to Tuncurry, and they were so excited.
“I could hear them cheering from in the crowd, and it was pretty cool having them there, and the smile on Carlos’ face when I walked over was awesome; it was lovely to get the win.”
It’s not often that an apprentice wins at their first start, and Thompson said she had mixed feelings leading into her Tuncurry debut.
“I was excitedly nervous,” Thompson said.
“I wasn’t nervous to ride the horse, but the whole experience was nerve-racking, but everyone was lovely and so supportive.”
While indentured to provincial trainer Kim Waugh, the young hoop explained that she called around for rides once given the all-clear by Racing NSW stewards, which eventually led to the opportunity to ride Damascus Gate.
“After I was cleared to ride, we basically started calling for a lot of rides and since I can claim 4kg and ride at 51kg, and that particular horse was given 55kg, it must have appealed to have me on,” Thompson said.
“He was a lovely horse to ride, and Carlos knew it was my first day, and he didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on me.
“He gave me simple instructions and basically said to have fun.
“He instructed me to be in a forward position and lead if I could, and we went from there, and luckily, I was able to find the front.”
The 24-year-old is from a Showhorse background and has had some excellent mentors over the years, spending time with multiple leading trainers before joining the astute Kim Waugh stable.
“I always rode showhorses as a kid, and I started doing university and didn’t like that at all,” Thompson laughed.
“I sourced a job in my hometown of Tamworth with Craig Martin and got into racing that way.
“I worked with pre-trainers for a little while, mainly finding my feet because I hadn’t ridden a racehorse before.
“I eventually went to Peter Robl’s in Sydney, and everything kicked off, and I progressed from jump-outs to trials, but he relocated to the Gold Coast, and I joined Kim Waugh in May of last year.
“I did a lot of trials, and a majority of them for Kim, and even a lot of trials in my silks leading into my first race; I wanted to get comfortable with all of that and different saddles.”
Thompson is grateful for her opportunities to date, and she will get her first chance to ride for Waugh next week.
“I’ve been lucky and have landed in some very good stables to start my career,” Thompson said.
“Being at Kim’s, there are bigger numbers, but she is a very good boss. She lets me ride outside work, go to races, and ride for people, and she is very supportive.
“After I won, I had a text from her straight away, and she was really happy.
“I do have a ride for Kim next week, and that will be my first ride for her and the stable, which is exciting.”