Sport

Linda Meech on her long career as a gypsy jockey and how she recovered mentally after a serious race fall. By Jack Kerr.
Credit: BRENDAN MCCARTHY / RACING PHOTOS

Champion stayer: Linda Meech, 37, jockey

I’m a bit of a gypsy. When I was young, I’d take off for here, there and everywhere. I’m from a sheep and cattle farm at Pongaroa on the North Island of New Zealand. I came to Australia when I was 18. I’ve lived in Sydney, I lived in Adelaide, Queensland, even Singapore for a little while. I’ve been pretty settled in Victoria for a long time now, but I’m about to move from the city to the country. I’ve met so many people this way, but it’s probably held my career back.

I spend a lot of time in the car by myself, driving to races across the state. I do over 700 races a year. You’ll go to Wodonga, Swan Hill, Burrumbeet, Warracknabeal, Moe. Loads of different places that are far away from Melbourne. All that driving can be pretty boring, but you get used to it after a while. You just learn to be able to do it, to sit in the car and drive for hours. It’s not a big deal. At least I can make calls hands-free.

I had a bad fall at Swan Hill. The horse galloped on my face. It wasn’t terrifying. It didn’t scare me. But it changes you. I’d go out to my car and forget where I was going. It definitely took a toll. You’re just not the same after an injury like that, not for a while. I’ve still got a big scar on my face, too.

Anyone who said that having a fall didn’t change them a little bit, or make them more cautious, would be lying. You lose your confidence. For 18 months to two years after my fall, I wasn’t as good as I had been. But you get it back again.

Most good jockeys are mentally quite tough. And super-competitive as well. And brave. But not stupid. There’s a difference between being brave and being blindly unaware of the consequences. You know that it’s risky. Horses can just snap legs. Someone can fall in front of you. Or crash into you. There’s nothing you can do about that. That’s where you have to be brave. 

It doesn’t matter how well you know a track if you’re on a slow horse. But knowing the tracks is a huge advantage. The tracks up around the Wimmera are the quirkiest. Some places you need to be in close to the fence, some places you need to be out wide. They all try to avoid having biases on their tracks, but there are a million different things that can make them happen. As jockeys, we’ve got to work out where those biases are, and work them out early. 

The money is way better if you ride in town. But I’d be in the top 10 country jockeys every year, and I make a good living. There’s plenty that don’t make huge dollars. They make a living, but it’s not glamorous or anything. People think jockeys are really rich, but they’d just be battling around. 

You have to be able to read what’s happening around you in a race. You need to anticipate what’s going to open up in front of you. You might have two horses that are tiring in front of you, one might be going slightly better than the other, so you’ll get on the back of that one. Or you might just have to drop back half a length and go around them. Getting stuck in between them, that’s the jockey’s nightmare. Sometimes you just have no luck.

I ride on new horses all the time. But it doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about them. You can watch every race now on video, or the trainer would have told me about them. So you normally have a pretty good idea about them. And by the time you get to the 400-metre mark, you know if you can win, 99 per cent of the time.

My favourite horse? A fast, really well-behaved one. Horses are a bit like people – they are all a bit different. Some are silly, some are lazy, some get overexcited. If you’re riding a two-year-old filly, it’s going to be different to a 10-year-old gelding. But in saying that, most of the good ones are cool, calm and collected, and that’s what makes them good athletes. 

The mindset of the horses makes a big difference. You could have the fastest trackwork horse in the world, but if it can’t put it together on race day, mentally, you’ll never see its full potential. If they can’t relax and settle, you’re stuck behind the eight ball.

 

This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Caulfield Cup

Saturday, 4.30pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne

• Rugby union: Wallabies v New Zealand All Blacks

Saturday, 7pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Motorsport: Gold Coast 600 – Supercars Championship, Race 22

Sunday, 2.25pm (AEST), Surfers Paradise street circuit, Queensland

Motorsport: Australian MotoGP

Sunday, 4pm (AEDT), Phillip Island, Victoria

• Swimming: Australian Short Course Swimming Championships

Thursday to Saturday, finals 7pm (ACDT), SA Aquatic & Leisure Centre, Adelaide

• Soccer: W-League – Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar

Friday, 5.20pm (AEDT), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 21, 2017 as "Champion stayer". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.