You might think that leading into last Saturday’s race meeting at Trentham, apprentice jockey Holly Andrew would be feeling more than just a twinge of anxiety about competing at the venue where she experienced a critical incident just one year ago.
Saturday’s meeting marked the 12 month anniversary of a fall from Bronsteel in the Gr.3 Cuddle Stakes (1600m) that resulted in Andrew hitting the turf with a horrifying impact, suffering major shoulder damage that once again put the brakes on her promising riding career.
It was the latest in a terrible run of injuries, including those incurred in a devastating car-crash in 2013, that has seen her spend more time on the side-lines in the past six years than actually in the saddle.
Not that that has deterred the plucky 28-year-old, who is back doing what she loves once again after resuming at Trentham in late January.
Safely through her riding return that day, Andrew has slowly built momentum to the point where any hoodoo associated with the track was laid to rest when she notched her first winner since her Cuddle Stakes fall, on the John Bary-trained On Show, at the venue on March 9.
“It felt good to ride that winner last week considering that was the track I fell at a year ago,” Andrew said.
“It was a little bit sentimental to ride my first winner back there.
“A lot of people have asked me if I had any demons about riding again at Trentham, especially by trainers, but I’ve been fine as my attitude has always been to just get out there and do it.”
That attitude is what has stood Andrew in good stead as she made her way back through the long hours of rest and rehabilitation she has undergone since her fall, although she admits there has been some dark times mixed into the recovery period.
“I found it harder (to recover) this time as, while it was a different injury to what I had suffered in the past, the pain I was in was far more intense,” she said.
“I ended up with what they call a frozen shoulder which is usually something that older women tend to get.
“They said it was a bit odd as I was young and fit, but it must have been the amount of trauma that the fall caused, which was incredibly painful. I just don’t know how those poor old women go through that.
“I put a lot of weight on, far more than when I had my fall at Waverley (2016), so I did let myself go a bit which made it much harder to come back from.
“I knew I wanted to come back and more so as people were questioning my weight gain, that just gave me more motivation.”
Andrew said the frustration of the rehab process did get to her and had her doubting whether she could make it back. A snap decision to visit a family member in the United States put life into perspective for her and back on the path to recovery.
“It was so long off, nine months without any real routine, and I started to have some real doubts,” she said.
“I spent six months sitting on the couch and the pain was incredible. I was getting a bit down and feeling sorry for myself as well as angry that it had happened to me and thinking that I was hard done by.
“That’s not the way to feel and I knew something had to change, so I decided to get on a plane and spend some time with my Uncle Jules in Reno.
“He was a jumps jockey back here in New Zealand but is over in Nevada now. He worked in the industry over there a number of years ago and took me to the races at Golden Gate in San Francisco and introduced me to some trainers and people in racing over there.
“That made me realise what I loved about racing and got me back on the right track and ready to get back to riding here.”
Apprenticed to master trainer Kevin Gray, Andrew has ridden 67 winners in her career to date and is keen to press on now that she is back on the track. She is grateful for the support she has received from a number of people including the staff at racing’s governing body, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR).
“I must say that NZTR were really great,” she said.
“They would ring me and check up on me. They offered support and reached out, which was really good to see and helped me a lot.
“With the amount of time I have spent out of riding I’m supposed to come out of my time (apprenticeship) on November 18, but they are going to add on another year for the four months I had off after Waverley and another eight months for the last fall.
“I don’t have any specific goals as yet as I think I have exceeded things by just getting back, but the main thing is to be able to get the connections with owners and trainers back.
“I was really thrilled to get a ride in the Group Two race on Saturday (Floral Belt, Wellington Guineas) which is a good thing as the day I fell I missed a ride in a Group One later that day.”
While racing is her passion and her main vocation for the foreseeable future, Andrew does harbour thoughts of a vastly different occupation once her hunger for riding wanes.
“I will ride as long as my weight allows me to, but as soon as I get sick of the wasting, I will look at something else,” she said.
“I’d actually like to join the army to principally do fire-fighting.
“I’ll happily ride for as long as my weight allows me to but I’m not going to harm my body through constant wasting so I think that would be a great back-up option once my life in racing is over, whenever that might be.” – NZ Racing Desk