Apprentice Rhiannon Payne - as seen through the Justracing camera lens last Thursday at Beaudesert.
I was at a fundraising function that my wife and I were involved with, to raise money for a terminally ill country and western music singer who we were friendly with, when by chance another man who was helping with the organization of the day was a 70-odd-year-old former Bundaberg jockey named Gary Gilbert. During the course of the day Gary and I got talking - and understandably the conversation turned to racing. Gary said to me, “You ought to write a story on an apprentice jockey. Her name is Rhiannon Payne. If you can believe it, she drove for six hours round-trip to ride a horse trackwork in Bundaberg for friends of mine who own and train the horse”. I expressed amazement at her feat and shrugged it off by saying something along the lines of, “Well if she makes it down to ride in this area, I’ll write her story then, because if she’s that keen then I’ll at least do my bit to help her out”. Interestingly one of the singers on the fundraising day was another 70-odd year old man, Aussie singing legend Lucky Starr and he performed the song that put him on the map which was “I’ve Been Everywhere” and the young woman that Gary Gilbert was referring to has ridden thoroughbreds all over Queensland.
And so it came to pass that the young woman in question and I were both at the Beaudesert TAB race meeting last Thursday, so here’s the Rhiannon Payne life journey to this point.
Rhiannon was born in Mackay 24 years ago as the daughter of her diesel mechanic father and pathologist mother but her parents now happily call Brisbane home. Whilst Rhiannon’s parents haven’t been involved in the racing industry, she advised there is a family connection to the sport by stating, “My grandfather, Bill Larkin, was involved in the Brisbane racing industry when he was younger. He was a trackwork rider. I think he always wanted to be a jockey but he was too scared.”
Rhiannon Payne, who is single, which means travelling is no object, is indentured to Kumbia based trainer James Curtain. She takes up the story by explaining, “I’m currently part-timing in Brisbane and part-timing out west with my current master, James Curtain. I’m freelancing in Brisbane for a variety of trainers, basically whoever says, ‘You can ride one for me,’ well I’m happy to take the ride. At trackwork I’m sort of focusing on my Gold Coast and metro rides now, as I’ve nearly out-ridden my country claim. I think I’ve ridden 74 or 75 winners of the 80 winners that I can ride before losing my country claim, so I have to look at the provincial circuit.”
To that end, Rhiannon has already enjoyed so much success on the provincial circuit that her claim is already down to 2 kilos there following her having ridden winners at TAB meetings on the provincial circuit at tracks like Ipswich, Toowoomba, Beaudesert and Dalby, noting, “I do a lot of riding at both Mackay and Rockhampton and have had great success at both venues and I’ve only just started going to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast down here to ride.”
Asked if she intends to change masters because her much greater involvement now is in riding at provincial meetings in South-East Queensland, Rhiannon didn’t hesitate to reply, “I’m going to continue with my current master, James Curtain, because he actually works a lot of horses on his property and only takes them into town (Kumbia) for (fast) gallops and for trials, so I’ve been going out riding gallops and trials for him and he’s happy to do that in the afternoons because the tracks don’t shut down out there.”
Apprentice jockey Rhiannon Payne and Merv and Lyn Petersen, a couple domiciled at Australia’s rum capital of Bundaberg, hit the headlines in Central Queensland newspapers in recent months via the impressive then two-year-old named The Lad’s My Dad, a son of handy former South-East Queensland based sprinter Daunting Lad.
I recall Daunting Lad having a couple of affable trainers in his 72-start career. Bill Naoum trained him at Ipswich for a long period of time then Dan Bougoure had the stallion in Brisbane. Along the way Daunting Lad won 10 races, including a couple of Listed races for prizemoney earnings of $688,050. His best win was arguably in the Lightning Handicap at Eagle Farm in 2010 when he stopped the clock at 56.70 seconds for the 1000 metres. Daunting Lad’s overall time of 56.70 is the third fastest Lightning Handicap of the 62 times the annual Winter Carnival feature race has been run to date. Only the Pittance in 2001 and Helter Skelter in 2005 have run faster overall time. And check out the honour roll of the race in the 64 runnings. Winners include subsequent Stradbroke Handicap winners Walgar, Mullala, Mister Hush, Daybreak Lover as well as top class gallopers like Time And Tide, Eye Liner, River Ridge, Dalrello, Rancho Ruler, Tiny’s Finito and Cangronde.
Official Stud Book records show that Daunting Lad has only served a maximum of 14 mares in the four seasons that he’s stood at stud at a service fee of $2,750.
Daunting Lad’s son The Lad’s My Dad is the first foal of a Reset mare named Reset And Go. Whilst her only victory in 14 starts was a narrow victory in a Tatura Maiden in Victoria, her mother Refuge was bred by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, so that fact alone ensured she has plenty of regal blood flowing through her veins.
Daunting Lad stands at Tiaro, which is about 15 minutes south of Maryborough on the Bruce Highway, for a Sharon Charnock. I spoke to Sharon last night and she’s excited by The Lad’s My Dad and hopes that his racetrack feats to date of three wins from four starts will bring increased enquiries from broodmare owners to Daunting Lad in this new season. “The Lad’s My Dad is one of only two runners Daunting Lad has had to date and we have a few lovely colts here by him that will go to the Capricorn Yearling Sale next year” she advised.
And Sharon isn’t the only one excited by The Lad’s My Dad. So is Rhiannon Payne. Asked if The Lad’s My Dad is the best horse that she’s ridden in her career-to-date, a broad smile lights up her face as she replied, “Yeah definitely. And he’s still got a lot to learn”.
I asked Rhiannon if it was a fact that she’d driven a six-hour round trip from Kumbia to ride The Lad’s My Dad trackwork in Bundaberg and she stated, “Yes it’s about three hours one way from Kumbia to Bundaberg. The Petersen’s have been very good to me and they’ve stuck by me. He’s had four starts for three wins and a second. He’s had recent stem cell treatment on his leg. He just got a slight tear in it playing in the paddock, or gave it a knock. We’re not exactly sure what happened.”
Queried as to her long-term aspirations, Rhiannon replied, “Right now I just want to keep improving and ride winners and see where it takes me. I’d love to be right up there in the provincial apprentices premiership in this new season, or even in the metropolitan apprentices premiership if the opportunity arises for me to ride there in the current season”.
It would seem given Rhiannon’s age that weight won’t work against her at any time in the foreseeable future, as she tips the scales at a comfortable 50 kilos.
The promising career of a dedicated young woman named Rhiannon Payne will continue to unfold as she rides at the Rockhampton TAB meeting tomorrow, but with the wonderful work ethic the young woman has already displayed, there’s no reason why she can’t one day be up the top of a metropolitan apprentice jockey premiership - so watch this space.
They say in life “everything happens for a reason” and this story is living proof of that statement. Had Gary Gilbert and I not met at a fundraiser a few months ago for a mutual friend who has since sadly passed away at just 63 years of age, I’d have never heard the Rhiannon Payne story, nor would I have caught up with her at the Beaudesert races last Thursday.
Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s the first of two montages of photos from Doomben last Saturday. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s a breeding story, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au there’s the latest news on the Victorian breeding scene.