Queanbeyan to Coonamble for Country Champs-bound Coriah Keatings

Coriah Keatings with ride the Dar Lunn-trained Pants On Fire in Sunday’s $150,000 Western Districts qualifier at Coonamble. Image: Racing Photography.

Coriah Keatings will make the six-and-a-half-hour trip from Queanbeyan to Coonamble this weekend for the biggest ride of her career. 

Teaming up with Dubbo trainer Dar Lunn, the 23-year-old will ride Pants On Fire in Sunday’s $150,000 Western Districts Country Championships qualifier. 

Only 34 wins into her career, Keatings is excited to rub shoulders with James Orman, Josh Parr, Sam Clipperton, and Aaron Bullock, to name just a few that will be riding at Coonamble.

“You’ll watch them on the weekends when you’re in the rooms, so walking out into the mounting yard with those jockeys is the dream of every apprentice,” Keatings told NSW Country and Picnic Racing

“If I put my best foot forward, it will be a good experience.”

Keatings never expected to get the ride on Pants On Fire, but Lunn has stuck with the apprentice, who won on the five-year-old at Bathurst in late February.

Keatings followed that victory up with a treble at Cowra on March 4, which included another win for Lunn when guiding Sensei Jackie to a maiden victory.

“I actually didn’t expect the ride because she was a pick-up ride at Bathurst after someone else (Chelsea Hillier) was suspended,” Keatings said. 

“I made the most of the opportunity, and then I was able to win on Sensei Jackie, and he must have been pretty happy with things and had no reason to take me off.”

Incredibly, Keatings nearly didn’t make it to Cowra for what turned out to be a career-defining day after crashing her car when leaving Queanbeyan.

Luckily, Keatings was okay, and with the help of her partner and fellow jockey Ryan Bradley and his family, the apprentice made it to Cowra.

“I wasn’t going too quick or anything, but I ran up the bum of a truck in front of me,” Keatings said. 

“It didn’t happen far from home, so Ryan’s Mum took me; she is a hairdresser and cancelled her clients.

“I offered to drive her car, but honestly, I don’t think she wanted me to drive it, so she took me,” Keatings laughed. 

In good form of late, Keatings was thrilled to make the day worthwhile when booting home three winners. 

“I’d been getting a few winners here and there and was nearly riding a winner a meeting, but it was a joke to everyone supporting me that I couldn’t ride a double,” Keatings laughed. 

“It was quite frustrating at times, but after winning on Sensei Jackie, I breathed the biggest sigh of relief.

“All the tension from what happened earlier was gone, and as the day went on, I had so much adrenaline pumping, and it got better and better. 

“I had the track pattern down, and it was just so good to get three winners.”

Heading to Coonamble on Sunday, much of the talk has centred around major players Gallant Star, 2023 WRA qualifier winner Listen To The Band, and 2023 Country Championships winner Sizzle Minizzle. 

Still, Keatings believes Pants On Fire, which has drawn gate eight, deserves a chance to prove herself in this company.

“I thought the way she won at Bathurst proved she didn’t have to lead and wasn’t one-dimensional,” Keatings said. 

“She drew soft, and the speed was on, so I grabbed hold, and she showed me a nice turn of foot.

“Obviously, we want to draw a soft gate so I can give her a kind run in the race, but if she keeps stepping up like she has this preparation, winning form is good form, and she should be right there in the money.” 

Keatings, who is indentured to Nick Olive in Queanbeyan, experienced the thrilling strapping Kimberley Secrets, who won the 2023 South East Country Championships qualifier at Moruya last year before finishing sixth in the final to Sizzle Minizzle in the final.

In the saddle this time, the 23-year-old admitted that Sunday’s race would be a big moment in her career.

“It’s definitely the biggest race of my career,” Keatings said. 

“It’s about six-and-a-half hours to Coonamble, and I’ve got a pretty quiet Saturday, so I might head up the night before and be well-rested for the day. 

“The Country Championships is close to my heart as I had that dealing with Kimberly Secrets last year.” 

“I rode her trackwork every day into the big win and strapped her that day, and it was a thrill to be there with the owners and Nick.

“I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I was to get the job done and get Pants On Fire into the final.”

It will be a big day, with Sunday’s Western Districts qualifying race the last regional heat ahead of next week’s Northern and Southern Wildcards at Scone on Friday and Goulburn on Sunday. 

For more on the 2024 Country Championships, click here