By Julieanne Horsman
When Samara’s Choice makes his debut in the Inglis Bonus 2YO Handicap at Wagga on Thursday he’ll have two jockeys on board. One will be his declared jockey Simon Miller. The other will be his namesake, late picnic jockey and track rider Samara Johnson who tragically lost her life in a car accident at the end of last year.
The striking grey gelding caught the eye of Samara at the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale in 2017 but he was snapped up by her former bosses Barbara Joseph and Paul Jones.
“Samara came up to us at the Newmarket complex and said the horse was her pick of the sale,” Jones said.
“She followed his progress keenly after that and would come and visit him in the stables. She loved him.
“After the accident we wanted to do something in memory of Samara. She rode track work for us in the past and was a very popular member of the Canberra horse racing community so we asked her parents Robyn and Phil if we could name Samara’s favourite horse in our stable after her.”
It’s a fitting tribute for a young woman who dedicated her life to horses. She grew up attending pony club from age three and by the time she was at school she was winning show jumping and equitation titles all over NSW and the ACT.
As a picnic jockey she was one of the best, finishing in the top 3 in NSW for the past two years in a row. She even holds the record for the most wins in a day at Trangie Jockey Club. She booted home four winners at the annual Macquarie Picnic Races in 2016 – a feat most metropolitan jockeys are still hoping to achieve.
Samara worked tirelessly as a track rider and stablehand with her partner, Canberra trainer Garry Kirkup. She was highly regarded for her horsemanship and work ethic and loved for her kind heart, sharp wit and friendly smile.
“She was obsessed with horses so it was no surprise she spent every minute she could with them,” Samara’s mother Robyn Johnson said. “She worked her butt off and achieved her dream of buying 30 acres at Dalton for her horses. It’d be nothing for her to be out there digging post holes and fixing the fencing. Between Phil, Garry and I we are going to keep that going for her.
“It’s such a thoughtful gesture from Barb and Paul to name the horse after Samara, especially since he’s a grey, Samara and I had a special thing for greys.
“I’m overwhelmed and grateful. It’s hard to put into words how I feel about all the beautiful things people have done for Samara since she left us. The hardest thing is I don’t even think she even realised how loved she was.”
Samara’s Choice gives away a fair bit of experience in Thursday’s race. Two others already have wins on the board including stablemate Mookareena and the favourite Canyonero is stakes placed but the grey put in a solid trial on 20th April and Paul Jones is confident he won’t be disgraced.
“His trial was very good,” he said. “He jumped well and settled. Pat (Scorse) did a good job of driving him inside the horses. He wore blinkers in that trial and will carry them in his first start. He’s a big striding horse and a lovely looking animal.”
While Samara’s Choice’s career is only just starting, he already has a home to go to once it comes to an end. Samara’s mother Robyn has dibs on the horse in retirement.
“He’s only a baby so I am just hoping he runs well tomorrow and completes the races safely,” she said. “I’m looking forward to bringing him home one day though and giving him all the love and attention Samara would have.”