Determined would absolutely be the most appropriate way to describe apprentice jockey Zara Castellaz-Faico.
The 37-year-old has been trying her hardest for the best part of a decade to kick-off her apprenticeship, and after enduring major injuries and disappointment, the Goulburn-based jockey finally broke through for a winner at Gundagai on Monday.
Riding the aptly named Crazy Ladies for her boss Pat Murphy in the 1400m Maiden Plate for fillies and mares, Castellaz-Faico came home hard and fast on the four-year-old to win by the barest of margins, finishing just 0.02 of a length in front of the Jake Daffy-ridden Luvin’ Our Grace.
“I didn’t go there expecting to win,” Castellaz-Faico laughed when asked if she knew she was on a winner.
“We thought she was a little weak, and she is bred so beautifully, and the owners want to breed with her, so we were looking for the right place to get that first win.
“I gave her a patient ride, and I kept pushing as hard as I could to the line. I was surprised she was going so well, but I knew by the 200m that I might get there.”
Castellaz-Faico didn’t know she had won until she heard the cheers from fellow jockeys after the race.
“I had no idea. I just rode her so hard to the line,” she said.
“Jake Duffy was on the other horse next to me, and he was asking me what I thought, and I said, ‘I have no idea’, and I still had no idea until I came back and the girls up top started cheering for me and Pat came running up to me and told me I had won.”
The win proved emotional for Castellaz-Faico and connections.
“I cried, and I even cried this morning. I am so happy,” Castellaz-Faico said.
“When you work hard for something, it just means so much and it wasn’t just about me getting that first win, but it was so sentimental to do it for Pat, who has given me so many opportunities to learn and ride.”
Her first winner was a long time in the making, and Castellaz-Faico admitted it was a weight off her shoulders as she now looks to kick on with her burgeoning career.
“It has taken a long time to get here,” she said.
“It is just so nice and it’s a big weight of my shoulders to get that first win.”
Originally from Sydney, the former personal trainer and gymnast packed up everything and moved to Canberra eight years ago in an effort to commence her apprenticeship.
“I have always been in horses, but gave it up for eight years,” she said.
“I went back to Sydney to see if I could get back on a horse, then eight years ago, I came down to Canberra and I have been working my arse off ever since.
“I worked for a couple of trainers and was trying to get an apprenticeship, and I finally linked up with Keith Dryden and Scott Collings for six years before coming to Goulburn and teaming up with Pat.”
The apprentice hoop didn’t enjoy much luck early on in her career, with major injuries keeping her out of the saddle for extended periods of time.
“I broke my leg quite badly at the gates, and then had a horse flip on me on the concrete, and it was just one injury after another,” she said.
“I was contemplating giving up. I was pretty heartbroken because it can take a good year and a half to two years to get back to where you need to be after those injuries, but I got through that tough period and kept working hard.”
Castellaz-Faico thanked Dryden for his earlier support and Murphy for getting her to the track and winning, and she admitted that without both trainers, she would never have ridden in a race, let alone be celebrating her first winner.
“Keith gave me that initial support, and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have got that apprenticeship, and he worked with me, and he let me make that move to Pat, who has been such a blessing,” Castellaz-Faico said.
“He is a good jockey in his own right, he is a good boss, and a great up-and-coming trainer.
“He will find me rides, walk the track with me, and talk to me about my rides, and he is more like a supportive older brother, even though I’m older than him,” she laughed.
Going forward, Castellaz-Faico simply wants to hone her craft so she can make a name for herself in the sport of racing.
“I would like to get a bit more polished,” she said.
“I do feel I have what it takes to be a decent jockey, but I now just need the rides to get those chances.
“I study really hard, work really hard, and I have worked for a breaker every day, so I can ride anything, and when I’m not doing track work, I’m on the equicizer.
“At the end of the day, I would really like to be a good jockey. Where that takes me, I don’t know. If opportunities open up – fantastic, but I know I love what I do and I just want to keep riding.”
Castellaz-Faico should be back in action at Goulburn on Monday when jumping aboard Bet Red in the 1400m Benchmark 66 Handicap.