By Ray Hickson
Rewards come in different shapes and sizes but for apprentice Chloe Baker it’s the chance to have her first city ride on a horse she’s done plenty of work with.
The horse in question is Gripped, a six-year-old who will be having just his fourth start in the TAB Highway (1300m) at Randwick on Saturday, and his trainer Wayne Wilkes had no hesitation in entrusting Baker with the ride.
“We could have gone for a city jockey but she knows the horse and that's the hardest thing when you take one down there,’’ Wilkes said.
“They don't know their little quirks. She knows the horse, she rides him trackwork and ride him both starts for me and the owners were happy to keep her on.
“She's worked hard to get where she has and she deserves it.’’
Among plenty of horse riding prior to her jockey career Baker, 25, completed a nursing degree and she has a young daughter, Ella, with her partner Joel.
She has been apprenticed to Wayne Wilkes for over two years and has the distinction of making a winning racing debut – on a horse called Scoboo at Kempsey on Anzac Day in 2016.
Wilkes had to seek permission of stewards to allow Baker to retain the ride on Gripped.
This is because although Baker has ridden over 50 career winners she’s only had limited experience outside the country sector.
She’s the only non-city based rider in the Highway and will have a baptism of fire against the likes of Hugh Bowman, Brenton Avdulla, Tye Angland and Blake Shinn.
If she happens to beat them she’ll have quite a story to tell.
Gripped himself probably could tell you a few stories, if he could talk, about why he didn’t make his debut until April this year, as a five-year-old, when trained by Brett Cavanough.
But they are stories that Wilkes hasn’t looked into. The horse came to him in good order and he said he “never really asked the owners too much about him’’.
Gripped won on debut at Tamworth then ran fourth first-up for Wilkes at Port Macquarie where the trainer said he found the race a bit short.
He led all the way at Coffs Harbour over a similar trip to the Highway and did more than enough to warrant the trip to town.
“We haven't got to the bottom of him as far as how much ability he has,’’ Wilkes said.
Gripped and Chloe Baker lead all the way at Coffs Harbour - December 15
“He's a six-year-old and you could still say he's learning about racing. He's saying that he can race and he has ability.’’
Gripped is a $12 chance with TAB and that market is somewhat stifled by the presence of the promising Awesome Pluck ($1.80).
Wilkes said his gelding is improving all the time and is looking forward to having the question of where he stands answered.
“In his trackwork he's always shown a fair bit of ability so I'm going to get a gauge on where he's at and what he can do,’’ he said.
“We won't change too much, we should be handy and if something wants to take the lead we might get a sit. I'd prefer it if something else rolled along.’’