On his way to compete in the inaugural Scone Pony Race, 11-year-old Nikko Anderson received a fateful good luck from none other than Hugh Bowman, the jockey of Australia’s famous race mare Winx. It worked like a charm and a few hours later, in their debut race, Nikko and his pony Tricky Ricky found themselves in front with 100m left to run. A lack of racing experience proved no hurdle for Nikko, who kept his mare up to her work to win in convincing style.Running into Winx’s jockey was far from a complete coincidence because Nikko’s pony came to the Anderson family from Hugh’s father. On their way to the races, Nikko and his father Chris had stopped in Murrurundi where they saw Hugh who, like Nikko, was racing at Scone that day. With typical generosity, Hugh sent Nikko off to the races with more than just his best wishes – a pair of his goggles and one of his whips now decorate Nikko’s bedroom.
Pony racing is essentially an amateur version of the thoroughbred racing we see every day on the TV, albeit with a smaller animal and over less distance. But it is far from an established sport in Australia and the handful of exhibition events that have taken place in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales so far are a result of a determined effort from Lindy Maurice, CEO of Thoroughbred Industry Careers (TIC).
Since establishing TIC in 2019, Lindy had pony racing firmly on the agenda, having seen the role it plays in supporting racing industries in countries such as the UK and Ireland. However, with limited resources and an incredible pragmatism (which evidently underpins her success), she says they were forced to prioritise the training of staff to fill pressing vacancies on breeding farms and in racing stables across Australia. This was done by establishing the Explorer Cadetship Program, for which TIC has now become well known. The ‘gap year program’ is open to anyone between the ages of 18-24 and combines residential training and hands-on work placements to kick-start young people’s careers in the thoroughbred industry.
When asked about why pony racing is important, Lindy explains that “as we’ve become more professional as a sport, we’ve become less visible to the grassroots.” Through partnering with Pony Club Australia, TIC has been able to recruit children from areas surrounding each of the pony races they’ve run. Lindy points out that “it’s not just country kids”, saying that “they come from a variety of backgrounds and different equestrian disciplines”. When asked if she’s seen any future superstar jockeys she’s quick to give great credit to the children, saying “absolutely, there’s been some really capable riders.”
The value Lindy sees in pony racing was confirmed when talking to Nikko. Despite having experienced all the thrills which come with growing up in an equestrian family (both his parents are polocrosse players), not least representing NSW at polocrosse himself, Nikko says “winning the Scone pony race was the biggest thrill I’ve had with horses”. Lindy reports that this has been a common response: “many of the children say ‘this is the best horse event I’ve ever done’.”
Despite being such an experienced rider, the thought of her son going faster than he’s ever been, in a new environment and on a pony that is apparently named Tricky Ricky for a reason was not one that eased the mind of Nikko’s mother, Skye, who admits to being a helicopter parent. However, she’s quick to remark on “the professionalism of the whole event” which allayed her fears. She gives particular credit to Lindy, saying that with so many elements going into the raceday “she made sure everything was really well prepared.”
The more that Nikko and Skye talk, the more it becomes clear how much impact just one race can have. Skye reports that since returning from Scone the TV in their house has been playing racing films near-daily and that Nikko is now following the sport. And that might not be the height of it for Nikko; Hugh Bowman also played polocrosse in his youth and when the suggestion of a future career as a jockey for Nikko was put to Skye, “I certainly wouldn’t put him off it” was her response.
Written by Oz Wedmore
Scone P0ny Race Photo credit – Ashlea Brennan Photography
Nikko Anderson playing polocrosse for NSW under 12’s. Photo credit – Catherine Rae