Plenty of hard graft came before Lisa Allpress kicked home her 1000th winner last week. Barry Lichter finds out what drives the country's leading jockey.
It's a story trainer Kevin Gray will never tire of telling.
It's 1996 and when he answers the knock on his door, who should he find but his newest stable worker.
"You've got to get more staff Mr Gray, this work's too hard," the chunky little girl pleads.
Gray has heard it all before, how tough the 4.30am starts are and how there are just too many chores that go with looking after 60-odd horses.
What the new girl doesn't know is Gray is a master trainer, renowned for moulding the careers and lives of so many top jockeys.
What Gray doesn't know is that the girl standing before him, rather than falling by the wayside like many before her, will eventually go all the way to the top.
Fast forward to Waitangi Day, 2013. All of New Zealand racing is toasting racing's most successful woman jockey, Lisa Allpress, who has just ridden her 1000th winner.
And there in the birdcage, one of the first to congratulate Allpress, and cursing that he wasn't the one to provide her with her milestone winner, is none other than Gray, gushing about her feats like a proud parent.
"She's the type of girl you'd love for a daughter," says Gray.
"I'm so proud of her. She wouldn't have had two bob when she came to me and she was never the best rider, she just worked and worked at it.
"I've had other girls who'd fall off, cry, want to go home to their mums and have a fortnight off, but Lisa would always get straight back on.
"I reckon she had a bit of guts in her because she was a Mumby and all of their family were great boxers and fighters from Taranaki."
FLASHBACK to 2008. It's 6am at the Matamata track and just six weeks after giving birth to new baby Angus, Lisa Allpress is back riding trackwork for trainer husband Karl, trying to keep a crippling mortgage at bay.
Angus is in a bassinet in the sleeper of their nearby truck and in between rides, she rushes back to check if he is awake and needs breastfeeding.
Their fulltime nanny is at home, looking after Josh, 3.
Life is like one long whirlwind, both Lisa and Karl working crazily long hours.
In the end, with not enough race rides coming her way, it's time for Lisa to put her children first, give up their beautiful property and house, and move back to be near family in Central Districts. IT'S the present day and one day after reaching the magical 1000 at Tauherenikau, the 25th jockey to achieve the feat but the first woman, Lisa is enjoying a rare day at home in Maxwell, a sleepy little town 20km outside of Whanganui.
Outside, on their 24ha property she shares with three dogs, two cats, six chooks, two friendly roosters, a couple of ponies, 50 cows and six horses, is the lifestyle she loves coming back to.
Pet possum Kevin might be gone, along with the guinea pigs, who are now running wild and breeding nearby, but there's still her prized vege patch.
Horses might be Lisa's first love, but gardening comes a close second and nurturing her broccoli, caulis, peas and corn is a passion shared by the kids.
Although Karl is the stay-at-home dad, running the farm and agistment property, Lisa loves nothing more than spending time with the boys, making their lunches and taking them to school or swimming, athletics, rugby, hockey or cricket like any other mum.
The trouble is, her punishing schedule doesn't allow that as often as she'd like - riding engagements take her from one end of the country to the other, meaning she might be away two or three nights a week.
This week she is riding in Christchurch on Wednesday, Wairoa on Thursday, Hamilton on Saturday and Auckland on Sunday.
Karl's mum, sister and dad all chip in when needed and further reinforcements are on the way with Lisa's mum Trish moving from Auckland to Hawera to be closer to the family.
"Thankfully I was here when Angus started school last August but it's hard. Tomorrow there's a function at school I can't go to and when the kids see me getting dressed up for the races they always sigh." ALLPRESS breaks the mould when it comes to ego. You won't see her blowing her own trumpet or arriving at the track in a flashy BMW like the latest rockstar apprentice.
"I'm not the best jockey," she offers. "I'm no Lance O'Sullivan or James McDonald. I just try hard and I'm dedicated. I was never a gifted rider, I've just kept at it and worked hard."
Ask Lisa if there's one thing she does well, she'll say it's calming her mounts.
"If a horse is fired up, you can't expect it to run well. I like to think I can make them relax and feel happy.
"I always talk to them. You learn that from day one. If you want to stay on a pony you have to get the horse to communicate with you. It's a knack."
The puppy fat which saw her struggle with her weight as an apprentice has long since gone.
"I used to walk at 50kg but the weight just dropped off me in Matamata when I had the kids and now I'm 46 kilos. I eat pretty well, icecream, lollies, biscuits, I'm so active it doesn't matter.
"I'm flat sitting still. There's always something on the farm to do." IN a week or two, Allpress will take time out to write a new list of goals, now that she's ticked off a premiership win and riding 1000 winners.
"You always have to manage your time, have a plan and a vision, know what you want in life.
"When I was an apprentice my main goal was to go on a cruise. I used to cut out pictures of cruise ships and stick them on my wall. You visualise something and make it happen.
"As soon as I came out of my apprenticeship, the first winter holiday I went on a P&O cruise to Australia and around the islands."
Lisa knows why she has such an organised life - she was brought up by strict parents - "we weren't well- to-do and if you wanted something you had to work hard to get it and keep it" - then had the finishing polish applied by Gray.
"I'll never forget how I was brought back to earth with a thud when I started with Mr Gray. I'd travelled overseas and flatted and had my own easy life then all of a sudden I was working 24/7 at the stables."
The same quarters at various times housed leading riders Hayden Tinsley, Bruce Herd and Kim Clapperton - boys on one side and girls on the other.
"There was no drinking, no smoking and you had to ask if you wanted to leave the property.
"I'll always appreciate the life skills Mr Gray taught me."
Even if he didn't listen to the early pleas of a shellshocked new recruit.
LISA ALLPRESS FACT FILE
Name: Lisa Allpress
Family: Husband Karl, children Josh, 8, and Angus, 5.
First win: Final Forecast at Hawera on March 17, 1996.
1000th win: Kekova at Tauherenikau on February 6, 2013.
It took 9670 rides to score 1000 wins.
Her mounts have won $12,955,797 in stakes.
She is the 25th NZ jockey, and first woman, to reach the milestone.
Winners: 60 wins at Group and Listed level.
Group I wins: We Can Say It Now, 2010 Captain Cook Stakes, Ocean Park, 2012 Makfi Challenge Stakes
Most recent big win: Blood Brotha in the 2013 Wellington Cup.
Feature wins last season: The Rotorua, Manawatu and Wanganui Cups, Desert Gold Stakes, Eulogy Stakes and Stewards' Stakes.
Most wins: 159 last season when she won the premiership.
Signed up for an apprenticeship with Kevin Gray at the age of 20.
Previously worked as a vet nurse until the age of 18.
Has had riding stints in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Loves: Being with family, animals and gardening.
Hates: Incessant travelling to race meetings.
- Sunday News
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