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By Darren Winningham | Sunday, June 24, 2018

Darren Winningham is not just passionate about horseracing as a sport, he is as fully involved and caring about the well being of the participants … human and animal … as any fan can be.

Winno looks to promote the game and all of the good people associated with it at every opportunity … but when some misfortune does befall one of his friends in the community he feels their burden and goes out of his way to make that setback just a little bit easier for those who have suffered a disappointment.

When young apprentice Sheriden Tomlinson, whose career was just starting to gain momentum, suffered a serious injury at trackwork on Thursday it affected Winno who wanted to do something to make the young man feel better.

So he … well, here's Winno's version of what happened next in HRO's first episode of 'The Sunday Story.'


The curtain came down on the Brisbane Winter Carnival this weekend at Doomben with the running of the final Group 1 race of the 2017/18 season. The Tatt’s Tiara was sensationally won by the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott trained Prompt Response. In the saddle was the man for the big races, Blake Shinn … who ended up riding a winning treble to take the honours on the day.

Meanwhile, WINNO was troubled at the races on Saturday. He was out of sorts. He had a recent setback in his own health but had rebounded and was doing well. However, a good friend of his – apprentice jockey Sheriden Tomlinson - had a mishap at trackwork early on Thursday, a mishap which landed him at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. WINNO was worried about him.

In the back of my mind I was waiting for that message to say “come in and see me after the races WINNO," but alas it never arrived. So, as you do, you take the bull by it’s horns. I set off to see the kid!

You see it was only ten weeks ago when I wrote about Sheriden debuting as an apprentice at the Noorama meeting – and you know what, the little fella rode a winning double on debut! So there is a connection there.

I find my way to the Orthopaedic Ward at the Royal. I used to work here so I know the sneaky ways in and out of this place. Lucky for me there is this young man lying in a single room – watching some television. I get a strange look. He actually thinks I am a doctor before he says, “Hi WINNO”.

I walk in and greet him with a handshake and a warm smile. He reciprocates, and we sit and mull over the events of the last few days.


I start with … "What happened Sheriden?"

“Well mate I was on a two-year-old for my boss Les Ross, "answered Sheriden. "It's name is Defence Missile. It has had a couple of starts for a few placings. It is pretty quiet, I didn’t think it would play up.

“We were half way down the straight when the sirens and the lights started going off”. (That means there is a loose horse on the track for all you punters that have never been to the track early!)

“I think it shit itself and started running around a bit," continued Sheriden. "Suddenly it darted towards the inside fence and another track rider, well known to you WINNO, none other than the mighty mare herself Claire Farrow was coming up on the inside of me and screamed out to me “watch out."
"I straightened my horse up again … but I will give her a mention that I nearly took her out down the straight."

He just started running around WINNO. He had never done this before. With all the flashing lights and sirens and there were two other horses galloping behind us. I think it just set him off and he just reared up and lost balance and he went straight over and landed on me and just crushed me!"

WINNO says - "And here I am thinking that you just fell off mate."

“No WINNO it flipped on me," confirmed Sheriden."It did like a 180 or whatever you want to call it and landed straight on me."

So, I just had to ask – "With a degree of difficulty of 3.5 mate, what do you think the judges would have given you?

"Well it would have been a solid 10 out of 10 – I haven’t seen this happen before," was Sheriden's quick comeback.

Sheriden went on to describe the events as they unfolded further.

“I was on the ground rolling around – swearing and screaming it was probably the worst pain I have ever felt in my life!”

WINNO asks, “Is it like the pain you will be in on Sunday night when NSW beat QLD in Origin 2 mate?" To which he replies, “That won’t happen. Can you stop making me laugh. It actually hurts you bastard”.

Trainer Les Ross, Sheriden’s boss, raced onto the track to see what has happened to his star apprentice.

"I remember one of the doctors saying to Les, 'I think it could just be bruising'. To which Les said, “if it was bruising, he would not be rolling around and screaming. He is quite tough”.

Sheriden was happy with this.

“It was great that my boss stuck up for me”.


"They put me in the ambulance," continued Sheriden. “They cut off my jeans. They cut off my shirt. Lucky Les told them not to cut off my vest otherwise I would have had to buy a new one. He saved me a couple of hundred bucks – that is a lot for a battling young apprentice like me”.

Inside the ambulance Sheriden remembers being handed the infamous green whistle.

“I started puffing away on that until I'd seen the fairies," said Sheriden.

I just had to ask – “Did you see the fairies? What one did you see?” A big smile on his face he responds, “I don’t know what I was seeing but it took the pain away”.

He recalls getting to the Hospital and having many doctors in with him, working on him, to ensure he was safe and that he could be made stable before being taken to theatre for emergency surgery.

At this point we were interrupted by the tea lady offering supper. He turns down a drink and asks for a biscuit telling WINNO – “I love my biscuits”. I look around the room and remind him there is a fair bit of food around the place. "Well there is a stack of it – I won’t be able to eat it all!”

Not that I want to dwell on it, but he seemed to resent what the doctor did with a catheter.

"They put it straight up my willy. It bloody hurt - but they needed it to drain all the blood and stuff out," explained Sheriden. At this point I said, We should probably move on mate. I am feeling a little squeamish!"

Sheriden was rushed to surgery where the surgeons worked to stop some internal bleeding and fix some fractures in his pelvic bones. After surgery he was taken to the Intensive Care Unit to be closely monitored. On Friday morning he was transferred to the orthopaedic ward where he is now on the road to a lengthy recovery.

Sheriden is a man of determination. He is strong willed and he wants to ensure he is compliant with his rehabilitation. He tells me, “The physiotherapist came in today and got me in the wheel chair and then up in that big walking frame over there.” He describes the feeling standing up for the first time after the accident. “I felt like a baby taking my first few steps again."


The short-term news is not great for this talented apprentice.

"They told me it may be three to six months before I am back in the saddle riding in races," said Sheriden But, not deterred, he outlined his plans to keep as mobile as possible, to keep fit and keep his weight down.

“When they let me, I am going to start wading in the pool and walking in the pool – and I'm complete my physio sessions as they tell me," said Sheriden with conviction. "Hopefully when things settle down I will be able to jump on the mechanical horse and keep my timing and work on it and improve my style."

His ultimate goal is “to come back bigger and better than what I was prior to the injury”. He goes on to tell me … "I was around “52 kilograms when the injury occurred. When I come back I want to be lighter. I want to be around 51 kilograms – that is my motivation now.”

He goes on to say, “I know there are other jockeys that have had big incidents and injuries and have come back good. I know I can do it!”

He points out something that WINNO didn’t know. “You know, I think I was not far off getting my upgrade to Country TAB meetings before this happened. I think the plan was to ride at the Deagon races and Les was going to come along and watch me in two weeks and maybe I could get my upgrade. That means I could ride at places like Kilcoy and Gatton and places like that."

This was news to me. I knew he has been riding consistently in the bush and has been working hard – but that was such a good, positive thought to remember how far he had come in a relatively short space of time.

I remind him that WINNO is the King of Kilcoy. On day one for Nick Keal I gave him some pointers how to ride the track and he managed a winning treble – so the pressure is on!

Hopefully when Sheriden gets back in the saddle he can get some good rides – maybe at Kilcoy and equal the record of Nick Keal. Humble as he is he says, “just that first win back would be great”.

I remind him that the key to Kilcoy is to ride well in front and to pace his horse. “Can you actually ride in front Sheriden”. To which he responds well. “Yes I can! I won the 2018 Tambo Cup aboard the Craig Smith trained San Vincenzo and I led all the way. I think I won by at least three lengths."


The last thing I must do is provide the thoughtful gifts that I have brought my little mate Sheriden Tomlinson.

He says to me, “You probably have an NSW jersey or something like that!”. Well he is 100% right – keeping me warm under my black jacket is my NSW jersey! He just rolls his eyes!

Next, I reach into the bag I brought in. I remind him of our deal to be clean shaven always. I notice that little 1970’s wannabe porn star moustache is growing above his lip again! Not to worry WINNO has brought him some disposable razors and some Loreal skin sensitive shaving cream to get him through his hospital stay and keep himself looking fresh!

He starts to laugh again and reminds me that this is not good for his recovery! I ask for a memento photo to which he agrees!

Next, as it is Origin night on Sunday night, I figure he would like to show some support for his beloved losing Queensland team so I bought him a Maroons scarf – to keep him warm and to use to wipe the tears away after the match. Whilst we have some Origin banter he agrees to a photo with his new scarf.

Oh – one last thing – I nearly forgot. "How is the horse you were on, Defence Missile. How is he?"

Sheriden responds with, “well he is in a lot better condition that me."

I end the evening wishing him well and telling him that I know that, despite this setback, with the support of his wonderful family, friends and the racing fraternity in general … and with his own personal drive and determination … that when the time comes he will return to the saddle in his own words “bigger and better”.

You know, driving home I think about all the jockeys, track riders and others involved in horse racing.

They put their lives on the line every day – be it in the darkness of the morning whilst we are all snug in bed at trackwork– at the races - or even just around the stables. Mishaps happen. Injuries occur.

I remember hearing a jockey say one time that this is the only profession where an ambulance follows you around at work.

As you place your next bet – or decide to get on social media and hurl abuse at these sports men and women – just think about the dangerous situations that they place themselves in each day of the year – all for your and my entertainment.

I wish all the people in the industry a safe and long career.

More articles

Sheriden the strapper … with champion jockey Jeff Lloyd
Sheriden the strapper … with champion jockey Jeff Lloyd
Sheriden with his Maroons scarf
Sheriden with his Maroons scarf
Sheriden with his razor supplies

Photos: Darren Winningham
Sheriden with his razor supplies

Photos: Darren Winningham
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