‘Onwards and upwards’ for impressive Fiona Sandkuhl

Fiona Sandkuhl guides the Mitch Beer trained Snowbella to victory at Goulburn on Friday. Photo: Bradley Photos.

Apprentice jockey Fiona Sandkuhl notched her first career winner at Goulburn last Friday when guiding the Mitch Beer trained Snowbella to victory in the 1300m Benchmark 58 Handicap. 

It was only her sixth ride, but the youngster looked a natural in the saddle, taking the grey mare forward from gate four, before holding on for a good victory.

“It was amazing. I was pretty shocked to be honest. When I crossed the line, I didn’t really know how to feel,” Sandkuhl said. 

“I just sort of looked around and thought, ‘wow, no one went past me’. It was a really great feeling, and great to come back a winner.”

The 21-year-old was over the moon after the race, and soon enough, messages of congratulations followed the win, with Sandkuhl explaining that a large and complex support network would have been willing her home as she crossed the line. 

“I’ve got my family at home and everybody at the stables and of course Mitch, who has been a great support,” Sandkuhl said. 

“I have a whole bunch of clients at home who sent me a bunch of messages and they were stroked too.”

An early career win will be no surprise to those that know Sandkuhl, who has spent much of her life in the saddle, kicking off with Pony Club when growing up in Gisborne before riding work for Patrick Payne and finally making her way to Beer’s stables. 

“I have been riding since I was nine, it started with basic Pony Club and show jumping and I loved sporting horses; I did a lot of comps with Sporting Horse Australia,” she said.

“I started a busines when I was 15 with my twin sister called ‘Back In Work Ponies And Horses’ and we rode a lot for other people and I just wanted a change.

“I got an opportunity with Patrick Payne Racing to begin my trackwork career there and I probably worked there for a year and a half and then I started working for George Osborne in that time and eventually just decided that instead of trying to get into the Victorian (jockey) program, because the numbers are quite large, I thought I would give it crack down here. 

“Mum’s friend saw a post about Mitch Beer wanting an apprentice and I went up and met him a couple of times and loved it and here I am.”

It has been a whirlwind start for Sandkuhl, who kicked off her career riding Chap’s Dream at Gundagai on July 4, and five starts later she was celebrating her maiden win.  

“I moved up here in February of last year, I started working for him there and then and I had to do my cert three and then had trials right up until I had my first ride on Chap’s Dream,” she said.

“I’ve only had six rides, and obviously each and every ride I get, the more experienced I will get and the better I will get, it’s definitely happened really fast, faster than I expected it too.”

Sandkuhl said she is in love with the industry, and even enjoys the jobs that some might find mundane.

“I just love it all,” she said.

“Early mornings when I first started riding track work were really difficult because I wasn’t used to it, but it comes with the job. 

“Now, I absolutely love starting early, I love the afternoon shifts and I even don’t mind picking up horse poo – it’s all part of the journey.”

A thankful young jockey wasn’t taking all the praise either and she thanked those who had helped along the way,

“I would like to thank Patrick Payne for giving me the opportunity to start off with track work, because if he didn’t do that, I’m not quite sure where I would be,” Sandkuhl said.

“The learning opportunities I got from riding with Billy Egan and Patrick, and all the great jockeys that came through there, it was a great opportunity for me. 

“Plus, I want to thank Amber Comb as well for all her help with my riding while I’ve been at Mitch’s, she works with me, she’s assistant trainer and she’s helped me through all my trials and at the beginning.”

The Beer team has been on fire of late, and Sandkuhl was the first to admit it was a good time to be the stable’s apprentice. 

“We’re in a stage where we are getting quite a few winners and hopefully with my claim, it will be good to get chucked on a couple that have a good chance,” she said. 

“Hopefully it is onwards and upwards from here.”

Beer has been impressed by Sandkuhl, explaining his apprentice was a natural in the saddle, and that it was just a matter of the young hoop getting her head around the racing side of things. 

“Her riding ability is terrific, she is a natural rider, it has almost all been about teaching her the racing side of things,” Beer said.

“She has come through pony club, the equestrian side, dressage and all that off the track sort of stuff and it is just teaching her about racing and transitioning from one industry to the other.”

Beer said the stable’s newest apprentice was a hit with the entire team, largely due to her good work ethic and attitude.

“It’s unbelievable, I remember Ethan Brown rode his first ever city winner for me and it was a great buzz, but to have someone you work alongside, win their first race, it is pretty special,” Beer said.

“She is a great kid, everyone at the stables loves her. The stable apprentice can sometimes get a bad rap as the kid that always sleeps in, or for being a bit of a rat bag, but she couldn’t be more the opposite and that is why everyone is happy to give her so much time.”

When asked if Sandkuhl had the stuff to be a top jockey, Beer believed she had all the tools to carve out a great career. 

“I think her attitude is the best thing about her, she is level-headed, she doesn’t get too carried away with herself, she is hard on herself, and she wants to continue to improve,” Beer said.

“No doubt when the success starts to come, it’s not going to get to her head and it will allow her to go through the ranks and hopefully in time in three or four years, we see her punching out winners in Sydney or Melbourne.”