AMY McDonald cast a nervous figure in the Warrnambool mounting yard as Flying Agent saluted in the Brierly Steeplechase, giving the Ballarat-based trainer the biggest win of her career.
McDonald's first thought post-race, after an emotional embrace with husband Lee and son Joe, 7, was to check on her winning gelding.
She bypassed the presentations to return to the stables and ensure Flying Agent had come through the 3450-metre race unscathed.
But there were family connections on the podium - her brother-in-law Darryl Horner, who had the winning ride, was there along with his brother Lee, also a jockey who is nursing a leg injury, and his nephew Joe, whose birthday was capped off with a chance to be on TV.
McDonald said the victory, over the Ciaron Maher-trained Bit Of A Lad and Eric Musgrove-trained Lucques, was a whirlwind.
The result was the most significant of her career, with the mother-of-two describing it as being "at the absolute top, the peak".
"I'm relieved, excited, overwhelmed - all of those things," she told The Standard from the racecourse stables.
"I was so nervous. I am not good at watching races anyway but you just want it to go right.
"He's outdone himself."
McDonald called Joe her "lucky charm". Her youngest son Alfie, 3, was not at the course.
"He had a curriculum free day today, he didn't just come," she laughed about Joe.
"He doesn't particularly love coming to the races, he loves winning trophies."
The family connections to Flying Agent were important to McDonald, who grew up in Penola in South Australia and also spent two years based in Warrnambool.
"Everyone in the industry and my family, we all work really hard," she said.
"Everyone knows how hard it is to get up every morning when you have kids.
"There's a lot of disappointment in the game so it was absolutely fantastic (to win the Brierly)."
Lee Horner said it was hard watching from the sidelines but knew his younger brother Darryl was the ideal jockey for the task.
"I was way more nervous watching than I was riding," he said.
"I would like to be riding him but it gives me more satisfaction to see my brother win races than actually winning them myself.
"To be a whole family affair is huge."
Darryl said he was filled with nerves too.
"When I got off the strapper said 'that was good', I said 'no for me, I was shitting my pants'," he joked.
"But how good is this horse. I'm pretty emotional because my brother should have been on him but he got hurt. I'm glad I could do it for him and Amy.
"Amy is a terrific trainer and the way they've placed this horse is absolutely exceptional.
"The fact that he went around today with 65 kilos was absolutely criminal taking on Bit Of A Lad who is a champion in his own right.
"All the credit has to go to Amy and Lee. What they've done with him is remarkable."
Lee Horner said they set Flying Agent for the carnival's opening feature race.
"It is huge really. We set him for the race, didn't want to win a feature before it because we wanted to win a big one at the May carnival and we managed to pull it off," he said.
"He's not a great galloper, he's just a really good jumping horse. I reckon we'll go to the Australian, if he pulls up well. It's only in three weeks and we'll give him a go there on a testing track and then the Thackeray."
Darryl Horner, who also won race one aboard Out and Dreaming for trainer Andrew Noblet, was fined $1000 for a celebratory gesture 50m before the Brierly Steeplechase finish line.
McDonald joins a fairly exclusive club of female trainers to win the Brierly Steeplechase.
Gai Waterhouse won in 2016 with Valediction (NZ), making McDonald the second in five years.
Heather Frew and Kath Smith are the other females to take out the prestigious race which has a history stretching back to 1884.
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