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The Hard Road Is Right Up Molly's Alley

By Ray Hickson

An easy ride never made a good rider.

Those eight words are written on Molly Bourke’s left arm and serve as a reminder that, in horse racing as much as in life, sometimes you’ve got to learn the hard way.

They’re words spoken by her father, Mark Bourke, when Molly was younger and she’s taken them with her to the toughest arena in horse racing where she’s working hard to make an impact.

Molly Bourke is making the most of her opportunities in the Sydney jockey ranks. (Pic: Steve Hart).

“Whenever I had a difficult horse my dad would say you don’t become a good rider from riding the easy ones,’’ she said.

“Sometimes it’s tough but you’ve got to have the tough ones to learn. It’s a reminder, so I always have it there to look back to when I’m having a bad day.”

The 21-year-old made the move to Sydney about a year ago, having outridden her country claim, and with the desire to emulate her racing idols like Kathy O’Hara and Rachel King and make a name for herself in the city.

It’s a long way from the 100 acre farm near Tumbarumba where a young Molly would work with the family’s stock horses and progress to camp drafting, pony club, and show jumping.

While there’s always been horses, there’s no real horse racing influence in Bourke’s family.

She said her father has always had an interest in sports while her mother, Jackie Clothier, is a horse enthusiast but given she was the smallest in the family exploring becoming a jockey was a good fit.

“We lived next door to a lovely lady who owned racehorses, we helped her when she went away with feeding the horses, and she got me into starting to watch the races,’’ Bourke said.

“Mum and dad didn’t have anything to do with the races, though we would go to the races for a day out, and they thought if I was passionate about it to give it a go.

“My mum moved away when I was in high school and I stayed at the property with my dad. There was a local trainer in Tumbarumba, George Dimitropoulos, who I’d ride trackwork for before and after school.

“When I was younger I didn’t realise what it meant to be a jockey, I thought it was all fun and games, but once I got into it I realised there’s so much more to it.

“I just knew I loved it, the riding style was for me, and I loved the adrenaline rush it gave me.”

It was Dimitropoulos who provided Bourke her first career winner back in May 2021.

She then moved into now Country Championships winning trainer Doug Gorrel’s stable and was able to win the 2022/23 SDRA Apprentice Premiership.

It topped off a year for Bourke that she won’t forget as much for the success she had but for the close call that saw one of the stable horses lose its life in a truck accident on the way to Albury races and badly injured the trainer.

“It was pretty traumatising,’’ she said.

“I was very lucky, I was asleep in the passenger seat and they reckon that’s the majority of the reason I came out of it without an injury because I only woke up as we started to roll.

“I woke up and my body was asleep so I didn’t tense up and the seatbelt caught me. Doug broke his leg and he lost a horse.

“The other three made it back to the races. It was a miracle we all walked out of it. But it made you have a look at life and how short it can be, it was a pretty scary incident.”

The catalyst for Bourke’s move to Sydney was hearing of a potential opportunity with John O’Shea who was looking for an apprentice and after a meeting with the Randwick trainer secured a three month loan.

That was in mid-2023 and she’s since joined the John Sargent team, who entrusted her with her first Group 1 ride on Palmetto in the $4 million The Star Doncaster Mile.

So, as Bourke closes on reducing her claim to 2kg in town, she feels like she’s starting to get her groove in Sydney and that excites her for next season which will be her last as an apprentice.

While the likes of Dylan Gibbons and Zac Lloyd will finish their indentures later this year there’s a new wave coming through that Bourke will have to compete with including the likes of Anna Roper, Zac Wadick and Braith Nock to name a few.

“I outrode my country claim and you’ve always got to give it a crack,’’ she said.

“It did start off a bit slow, but it’s so different. Until you’re in it you don’t realise how different it is but, now I’m getting on a roll and getting used to it, I’m loving it.

Molly Bourke wins on Casual Connection for John Sargent at Rosehill. (Pic: Steve Hart)

“Next season it’d be a big dream to see if I can get through the ranks to be in the running to win (the premiership), and even just finishing in the top three would be amazing.

“There’s definitely some very good up and coming riders out there, it’s very competitive.

“It’s not going to be easy, I’ll have to work hard and learn from every opportunity I get and try to get my name out there as much as possible. In the last couple of months I’ve started to get more opportunities.”

Bourke says she’s learning how to cope with the pressure that comes with riding against some of the best jockeys in the world and the criticism that comes with the sport.

She admits in the early days of her time on the big stage she’d let some of the criticism get to her. That’s where the advice and assistance of former jockey Darryn Murphy has been invaluable in steeling her to learn to thrive on the pressure.

“You can’t let it get to you in this industry, there is a very big negative side. You’ve got to try and shake that off a lot,’’ she said.

“I do struggle a bit under pressure, and I don’t make decisions as well when I feel pressured.

“My biggest let down when I first came here was as soon as I had a horse that was favourite or people expected to win I would make rushed decisions.

“That’s where Darryn has come in, he’s worked with heaps of jockeys over the years and has given me a lot of advice and helped with handling the pressure and clearing my mind before races.

“I’ve still got so much to learn. This next season I want to hit the ground running and achieve as much as I can in the last year or so of my apprenticeship.”

*This article originally appeared in the June 2024 edition of the Racing NSW magazine

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