Comebacks proved rewarding last Saturday for a couple of female apprentice jockeys, Erin Leighton and Mereana Hudson. Leighton (27) notched her first win for six years when successful on No Loitering at Te Rapa, while Hudson (33) registered her first win for the season, and her third since a comeback last term, with a relentless ride on Hard To Be Humble in the final event at New Plymouth.
Leighton made a promising start to her career when kicking home six winners within 30 rides, all the wins being in her second season in 2012-13. She began her apprenticeship with Natalie Tanner and her first win was on Blue Streak at Ruakaka in August 2012 and she followed up with a double on Rusty Devil within the first two months of the season, while her last raceday ride until this season was a winning one on Conscious Mistake at Blenheim in April 2013 when she was based with the Michael Pitman stable for a few months. “I gave up after that,” Leighton said. “I’d had a knee reconstruction before I started riding and an ankle reconstruction after winning the two races on Rusty Devil and when I came back from the South Island I felt I needed a break from riding.”
Leighton may have been off the racetrack, but she was still deeply involved with horses. “I ran a full-time breaking-in operation, doing all types of horses – Clydesdales, sport horses, show ponies and even some thoroughbreds,” she said. “I also did some Ready To Runners and did quite well out of them. The first one I bought for $4500 and sold for $42,500.” Leighton’s life was away from the racetrack until she made the decision last year she wanted to race ride again. “That was at the top of my bucket list so I got in touch with Natalie (Tanner) again last winter,” she said. “I had my first raceday ride in May and since then I’ve had seven more rides. It’s been slow going, but it was a great feeling to win on No Loitering. I had ridden him for two unlucky fourths beforehand and I actually went down to Te Aroha to ride him in trackwork the previous Saturday morning and I knew he was going to win. He worked so well.”
Leighton is on loan to Byerley Park trainers Shaun and Emma Clotworthy until the end of this month. “I’ve ridden a winner again now and I want to go on with it and get the most opportunities I can,” she said. “It was a month between rides when I won on No Loitering and hopefully now I can get to ride more often. Iain (Marks) has been a good supporter of me with No Loitering and he has other rides for me.”
Hudson, a mother of three, also knows the feeling of limited raceday opportunities. But she knows what can be achieved when she gets a chance. Her biggest thrill in racing came eight years ago at Awapuni when she won the open sprint aboard the popular Wanganui warhorse Bulginbaah, guiding the rising 11-year-old to an eight and a quarter- length victory, the last of his 22 wins. “I’ve got that photo of Bulginbaah on the wall at home,” Hudson said. “That was my greatest thrill. I’ll never forget that day.” Another memorable day came when she rode her first winner, Sherborne, at Hawera in May 2011 for her employer, Wanganui trainer Stephen Crutchley, who is now training winners in Singapore. She kicked home four winners that season, two the following term then one apiece each of the next two seasons, but a few raceday falls ended her race riding days. “In the second fall the saddle slipped and I was so scared after that I gave up,” she said.
However, she continued riding trackwork for various Wanganui trainers and eventually made a comeback as an apprentice, signing on with Fraser Auret last season and kicking home two winners, Desano (in March 2018), and Book Smart, for her employer. “But the long days and travel each day from Wanganui to Marton got to me and I was ready to give up and I sold all my gear,” she sad. “But then after two weeks I wanted to go again. I started working for Rochelle Lockett, running one of Kevin Myers’ stables.” That led to an approach by Wanganui trainer and Studmaster Kevin Rohloff, to whom she is now apprenticed.
“It’s worked out so well. I’m loving it,” she said. “It makes me happy working with the foals and mares as well as riding trackwork and getting some raceday rides. “Lisa Allpress has also been giving me a hand with my riding and she’s been a big help. She told me I could win on Saturday. She said just don’t give up on him and I kept hearing her voice when he looked to be flat and not going good enough.” Hudson was cheered on by her youngest son, Colt, and the excitement he showed has given her further encouragement to make the most of her comeback.