NSW move pays dividends as Kelsey Lenton lands Lightning Ridge Cup

On Saturday, apprentice jockey Kelsey Lenton enjoyed the thrill of Western Racing Association action, winning the 2023 Lightning Ridge Cup (1200m) on the Kevin Dixon-trained Indian Thunder. 

Lenton ‘jumped and went hard until the winning post’ on Indian Thunder ($7), which proved too good in the $14,000 feature when beating the Peter Sinclair-trained The Defiant One (Shayleigh Ingelse, $12) by 2.45 lengths, while in third and 3.93 lengths back was the Clint Lundholm-trained Fearless Mila (Ronald Simpson, $5)

The three-kilogram claiming apprentice was thrilled to win the race on the eight-year-old. 

“Kevin has given me a couple of rides recently on his Class One and Maiden horses, and to ride Indian Thunder was a privilege,” Lenton said.

“It was so good to win the Lightning Ridge Cup for them, and the bracelet is valued at a lot of money, and to win that for Kevin and his partner, who are lovely people, it’s very cool.”

Indian Thunder adjusted to the unique Lightning Ridge track, and Lenton said he felt like the winner throughout the six-furlong event. 

“They raced Indian Thunder there last year, and the jockey said the horse hit the grass and didn’t want to go on with it, and in the back of my head, I was wondering what he would do, but he hit the grass on Saturday and was okay,” Lenton said.

“He was just humming the whole time; he definitely felt like the winner throughout the whole run.”

Saturday’s win isn’t the biggest of Lenton’s burgeoning career, but it will be one she always remembers.

Initially based in North Queensland, Lenton kicked off her career up north, winning her first race on the Georgie Holt-trained Hit Snooze at Burdekin Race Club, Home Hill, in April of last year.

Seven wins and two months later, the youngster decided it was time for a change, and she took up the opportunity to join the Jane Clement stable at Bendemeer.

“Experiences-wise, it was so hard to be constantly racing in North Queensland,” Lenton said. 

“There are only limited country tracks, and they only ride once a week, but down here, there’s a lot more horses, a better quality of horse, and so much more racing and opportunities.”

The cowgirl-turned-jockey knew Clement through the trainer’s son and up-and-coming apprentice Braith Nock, with the pair both making their mark on the Australia rodeo circuit. 

“I used to rodeo with Jane’s son Braith, and I knew Jane and her husband throughout the years, and when I decided to move, I originally came down for a bit of a holiday but never went back home and ended up staying here,” Lenton laughed. 

“They are family friends, and I knew I’d be in a good spot here, and it definitely feels like family, and I feel very included.”

Lenton is an accomplished barrel racer, which has set her up for success as a jockey.

“I did barrel racing, and I went to America twice, and I was Australian champion three or four times,” Lenton said. 

“It’s funny, country racing is really country, and everyone knows each other and has done a bit of everything like that.”

Since arriving in NSW, the Townsville product has notched up another nine wins after returning to the saddle in October last year. 

“It took me a long time to ride the way I needed to ride in NSW,” Lenton said. 

“North Queensland racing is a little different, and it took me a long time to figure it out, but now I have, and I am feeling more confident, and I’m starting to get more rides from other trainers.”

The Queenslander loves life in NSW, and she has set some goals as she looks to make her mark in the NSW jockey ranks. 

“My immediate goal would be to outride my country claim, and that’s something I want to do for my sake and Jane’s sake, as many of my winners will come on their horses,” Lenton said. 

“If I can do that, hopefully, I can progress to the provincials, and if I end up good enough, I’d love to ride in the metros in Sydney, or if not Sydney, in Brisbane and that sort of area.”

For the moment, Lenton will focus on her apprenticeship, but she will undoubtedly continue to get chances to showcase her talents on the NSW country racing scene.

For all results from Lightning Ridge, click here.