Kelsey Hannan was highly emotional when she won the Kumara Gold Nuggets (1800m) on Saturday – but not because it was her 50th winning ride.
The in-form 19-year-old apprentice reached her milestone within a year of her first race ride when she took out the time-honoured West Coast feature aboard The Buffer.
But her tears following the race were not about hitting the 50-win mark, nor about the fact it came aboard a horse trained by her first mentors, Ruakaka trainers Kenny Rae and Krystal Williams.
Instead it was about a wish The Buffer’s part-owner Richard Bishop had three years ago.
“When I first moved down to Christchurch for a while and I was by myself down there, he pretty much took me in like his grandchild and looked after me really well, so we got quite close,” Hannan said.
“He told me ‘you’ll win the Nuggets on that horse one day. That’s my dream race, and I want you to ride him’.
“He’s very unwell, and he just got out of hospital for that race to come and watch it, so it was pretty bloody special.
“I actually didn’t know it was my 50th winner.”
Hannan has had a great deal of success with front-runners in her career and she won the Nuggets in that manner after kicking The Buffer up on the speed early, but she said the race didn’t pan out exactly as intended.
“I didn’t want to lead, to be honest. I was punching forward to clear the horse inside me,” she said.
“But once I did that and ended up in the lead, I knew my horse was happy enough in front so I was more than happy to be there. He relaxed really nicely in his own little sweet spot.”
It was the second win on the day at Kumara for Hannan. The first came in a Rating 80 event aboard Follow Your Dreams, another Rae-Williams horse that she had a strong emotional connection with.
“When I was with them, he was a two-year-old and I was his handler. I went to every race meeting with him, I rode him, and he was my absolute favourite,” she said.
“Then he happened to get named Follow Your Dreams, and I thought ‘that’s a bit ironic, that’s quite funny’.
“To go and win on him the first time, in August, was really special, and then at Kumara, that was a good one too. It was my first time riding him in ages. It was a special day.”
Hannan spent her first years working in the racing industry with Rae and Williams, who she says were instrumental in her success.
“They’ve had my back right the way through. They didn’t let me wander at all when I started – it was a case of ‘if this is what you want to do, this is how you’re going to do it’.
“They threw me in the deep end, but it really helped me mature as a person and as a rider. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am now today.”
After beginning with Rae and Williams, Hannan moved to Cambridge, initially with Ralph Manning before moving to her current employer, Shaun Phelan. She didn’t have her first raceday ride until March last year and scored nine victories before the new season began on August 1.
“At the start of the season I didn’t have that many goals, because I didn’t know what the season would bring. However, Shaun got me to set some goals, and we were going for one or two wins a week,” she said.
“As we started hitting that mark, we thought ‘let’s go bigger’. We wanted to aim for 50 to 60 wins for the season.”
As it turns out, Hannan may reach 50 wins before the season reaches its halfway mark at the end of January. She’s already ridden 41 winners, which puts her fifth on the jockeys’ premiership, behind Michael McNab, Craig Grylls, Opie Bosson, and Lisa Allpress, and the leading apprentice by 11 wins from Tayla Mitchell, one of Hannan’s best friends in the jockey room.
“It’s been a little bit overwhelming. But I’ve been fortunate enough to get some nice rides from people that have supported me, and Shaun’s really good at keeping my head on my shoulders. I’m only as good as the next horse I ride,” she said.
About the only milestone Hannan has yet to reach is a first black-type win, which she’s hoping she gets a chance to achieve in the near future.
“The Nuggets was my biggest achievement,” she said. “The opportunities come and go, and the connections still take into consideration the fact I’m still an apprentice, but I would love to get a black-type race.”