By Ray Hickson
Trainer Mark Newnham had no hesitation in giving leading apprentice Rachel King the opportunity to be the first female jockey to win the Doncaster Mile at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
King is unbeaten on Newnham’s in-form gelding Lanciato from three rides and, in a show of faith and confidence in the 27-year-old, Newnham said he saw no reason to deviate from a winning formula.
“Rachel has faith in the horse, the horse has faith in her. So I’ve got faith in both of them,’’ Newnham said.
“That’s how it works. She hasn’t put a foot wrong on the horse and I wouldn’t expect her to this week.
“She understands the horse and how he needs to be ridden so they have a good rapport.’’
No female jockey has won the Group 1 $3m The Star Doncaster Mile (1600m) and Michelle Payne, third on Yosei in 2012, is the only female to date to place in the nation’s premier handicap mile.
Added to the job facing King is that Payne’s brother Patrick (who was 16) is the last apprentice to win the race, successful on Soho Square in 1992.
But King, who started her career in England, is far from inexperienced and won’t be overawed by the occasion.
She outrode her apprentice claim earlier this year and posted her first Group win on Lanciato when they made short work of the Group 3 Newcastle Newmarket (1400m) last month.
“You do everything similarly, I go through the form just as much as I would,’’ King said.
“Last time I won on him it was the first Group race I’d won. I don’t want to change too much just because it’s a big race.
“I’m pretty relaxed in that kind of way. I’ve ridden on big occasions back in England and because he’s so chilled out as well we’re both happy relaxing out the back and doing our own thing.
“Once we’re out there we’re doing our jobs.’’
King earned the right to keep to the ride on Lanciato, as Newnham alluded, by proving herself worthy.
It’s far from a rare occurrence for an apprentice to go on a winning run on a horse then be replaced with a senior rider when the stakes are raised.
“Mark’s been fantastic the whole way through. He’s kept that pressure on which he’s entitled to,’’ King said.
“It helps that he’s been there and done it and knows what it’s like. We’ve both got confidence in each other, me and the horse, and it makes a big difference.’’
The ability to ride Lanciato at 51kg is a big part of the reason Newnham elected to hand King her best opportunity to win a Group 1.
It’ll be just her fifth ride at Group 1 level and she’s on a horse on a roll, with a powerful finish, and that’s attracting support, firming with TAB from $26 to $17 midweek.
“At 51kg I’m not going to get anyone better. I’ve got someone who’s not wasting to make the weight,’’ Newnham said.
“He’s a horse that’s always going to require a bit of luck with his racing pattern but a couple of times Rachel’s created luck on her own.
“He saves all his energy and on dry tracks he’s able to do it. We’re playing to his strengths.”
Newnham has only been training in his own right for two years but he’d have as much idea about what it takes to win a Doncaster as anyone through almost 20 years working for seven-time Doncaster winning trainer Gai Waterhouse.
King is also a Waterhouse product and is still apprenticed to Racing’s First Lady.
It’s appropriate that Lanciato is Newnham’s first Doncaster runner, too.
He was one of the first horses to walk into Newnham’s stable after his owner Derek Tam sent him across from New Zealand and the now five-year-old was his first city starter back in June 2016.
“There’s no secret (Doncaster) formula, it’s knowing your horse,’’ Newnham said.
“He’s had the right preparation for him, it probably wouldn’t be the right prep for most horses. It was six weeks between runs from the Carrington to the Newmarket.
“Now it’s four weeks, if we get him there at his best the rest is whether he’s good enough.’’
Newnham wasn’t fazed by Lanciato drawing barrier 13 in Saturday’s race as he’s a natural backmarker.
Lanciato storms home to run second to Redzel in a Randwick trial on March 26
In his past three wins he’s produced a dazzling sprint – Punters Intel data from his Newcastle Newmarket win revealed he ran 10.78 from the 400m-200m and 11.12 for his last 200m.
And he showed he’s at the top of his game running into second place behind superstar sprinter Redzel in a 1000m barrier trial on March 26.
“He seems to keep getting better, he’s had to because we’ve kept stepping him up,’’ King said.
“After his trial the other day I said to Mark he feels better again.
“Doncasters are renowned for being high pressure races so hopefully they roll along and it would suit him perfectly.
“If I do my job and get him out in the clear he’ll do his job, whether he’s good enough we’ll find out but he is pointing towards that way.’’