WARRNAMBOOL apprentice jockey Lily Coombe has a back-up plan.
The 20-year-old from Albury, New South Wales is combining her riding apprenticeship with a law degree.
Coombe originally came to Warrnambool to study law at Deakin University after taking a year off when she completed her high school studies.
She said her mother, a lawyer, had horses when she was younger.
Coombe started pony club at 12 and enjoyed pleasure riding, before working with Albury trainer Kim Davison.
After moving to Warrnambool, Coombe secured a position with Wangoom trainer Matthew Williams.
“I’d promised my mum that after a year off I would go to uni,” she said.
“I’d started doing race trials in Albury and when I moved here I wasn’t intending on being an apprentice.
“After a few months I rode a few trials and Matthew asked if I’d be interested in signing back up as an apprentice and I said ‘definitely’.”
Coombe studied law for 12 months while working for Williams and last year deferred her studies to spend three months back in Albury after getting her ticket to race ride.
“It’s a bit less competitive and it’s a good place to get experience,” she said.
“I went on three months’ loan to Brett Cavanough. He’s got a lot of horses and does a lot of breaking in. He’s a good person to learn off.”
Coombe attends the Racing Victoria (RV) apprentice jockey training program each month at Flemington racecourse.
Her first race ride unfortunately didn’t go exactly as planned.
“I went to the races and I had to borrow one of my friend’s saddles,” she said.
“The stirrups were quite a bit shorter to what I am used to and I had a new helmet that went over my eyes when the horse jerked its head.
“I was on a first starter and she was jumping around a bit.”
After a rough first ride Coombe rode six winners during her three months in Albury. She has been riding in races now for seven months and has ridden 19 winners.
So far Coombe has collected four country cups, taking home the Penshurst Cup on Six Beat, the Great Western and Halls Gap cups on Spanish Vixen and the Edenhope Cup on Sandhill Chief.
Naturally slim, Coombe doesn’t have to work too hard to maintain her weight.
“I’m fairly lucky, but I do a little bit,” she said.
“In the afternoons when I’m not working I’m either riding the mechanical horse or going out for a run.”
On a non-race day Coombe is up at 4am and at the track by 4.20am, where she will ride six horses before completing morning stable duties.
She heads home about 10.30am for breakfast and a nap, before starting the afternoon shift at 3pm.
If she’s not working afternoon shift, she will head out to Williams’ farm to ride the mechanical horse and watch race videos.
On a race day Coombe may have a full card of rides, but there is no reprieve from trackwork.
Once home after the morning duties Coombe checks her weight and prints off the form guide.
If she needs an extra sweat she will jump in the bath before double-checking her race bag is packed. Her riding bag includes a saddle, packing, clothes, boots and helmet.
She checks the scratchings as late as possible and heads off to the races.
The biggest learning curve for Coombe has been reading the progression of races. “Getting in the flow of riding in races took a little while. It takes practice before you get the hang of it,” she said.
She has no superstitions before a race, but likes to take a quick look at the form before getting instructions off the trainer and jumping aboard her mount.
Williams said Coombe showed plenty of potential.
“I said to her one day you might like to be a jockey,” he said.
“Since then she’s never really looked back. From day one she’s had that natural ability.”
Coombe is hopeful of riding at the May Racing Carnival, but has no plans to extend her abilities to jumps racing in the future.