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By Lani Fancourt with Rikki Palmer | Sunday, September 8, 2019

HRO is excited to announce that jockey Alannah Fancourt has joined the HRO team. Over the coming weeks Lani will chat to a variety of industry participants allowing readers greater insight into the lives of the hard working people who help form the backbone of the racing industry.

Here, Lani chats to the very interesting Rikki Palmer about Rikki’s life as a jockey, being the wife of a jockey and the family’s juggling act in bringing up two young children in that scenario.

Rikki’s mentor, friend and number one supporter Harold Norman also gets plenty of mention. His influence on Rikki’s career becomes clear as her story unfolds. This is the opening edition of ‘Lani chats to … ‘ which is exclusive to HRO.


Rikki, you are riding in pretty good form. You have got to be pleased with that?

Yeah, I’m pretty happy with the way I am going since I’ve been back. It is pretty good feeling to be back with winners after having my second child.

One of those winner’s … a winner in town in fact … was for Harold Norman. You have a long association with Harold. Take us back to where that all started?

At first, I was actually going to be an apprentice for a few other people but that sort of never panned out so I ended up just riding work. I called into Harold’s barn one day and started riding a couple for him.

Then one day he asked me … ‘I heard you wanted to be an apprentice. If you want a master, I am happy to sign you up if you want to go that way’ … and that’s how it happened and how I started with Harold.

He’s been that good to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better boss.

You mentioned that you have come back now after having your second child. After the birth of both of your children, Maci and Piper, was it always your intention to come back to race riding because in that sense it has been an interrupted career?

I actually had a fall in October 2015. It was on my last day as an apprentice. I got pretty banged up. My wrist never came back as quick as they thought it would and I wasn’t sure if I was coming back after that because my wrist just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. It was taking a really long time to come right.

Matt and I were due to get married in April 2016. We did get married in April and we decided that we would try and have a baby then because I was off anyway and I fell pregnant on the honeymoon with Maci. There was no rush to get back. We had Maci in January 2017 and, with that, I honestly didn’t think I was going to come back riding. My mindset changed a little bit after having a baby.

Then we went over to Mauritius. Matt rode over there and we took our eight-week old baby and lived there for three months. It was an amazing experience. We lived in a resort with all you can eat. It didn’t help get the baby weight off.

So, what was the trigger to get back in the saddle after Maci?

For a long time, I didn’t think I would come back at all. I though no, I’m done now. I’ve had a kid. My wrist is no good. It wasn’t until she was about five months old that I thought I’m ready to come back. I don’t really know what sparked it but I got the bug back.

I started to get keen. I was going back to the doctors and chasing them a little bit saying, come on … help me out. I had another operation on my wrist. After that it was still really weak.

They did a lot of physio with me and I just made the decision one day that I wanted to give it one more go and see how I felt and whether it was in fact the right thing for me to do or not.

I think, when I fell, I was very due for a holiday and that made me not miss it for a long time ... and then the baby came along. I was just going along not thinking about riding. I thought I’d be fine without it … until one day I realised that I really miss it and I wanted to have another go.

I thought if I got on a horse and I felt it was not the right thing I just wouldn’t ride anymore. It wasn’t. I got back riding and I loved it again.

And then you had to take the step up to race riding?

Again, Harold played a big part in that. I was visiting the stables with my baby and a couple of my favourites were there … Invinciboy, Lucky Tom, Hannah’s Song, I’ve got a few …and I wanted to ride them again.

And then you went through it all again after you had Piper. This time you actually came back earlier than you anticipated?

I did. I had my first race ride when she was ten weeks old. She is only four and a half months old now and I didn’t intend to come back until she was four, five or six months old. I was just playing it by ear.

Harald had one in at the Gold Coast. Matt was down to ride it but he had another ride in the race so I rang Harold to speak to him about it and I said to him, ‘Matt’s got another ride in the race … do you want him to ride yours or are you happy to let him ride the other one.’

Harold said, ‘well, what are you doing?’

I said, ‘My baby is nine weeks old Harold. What do you mean, what am I doing? I haven’t sat on a horse in nine months.’ He said, ‘well come to the track in the morning and gallop one for me and see if you want to ride it. See how you feel.’

It seriously happened like that. I went in the next morning and my mum and dad are saying, ‘you are joking.’ I said, ‘no, can you have the kids, I’m going to ride one and see how I feel.’ It felt good and that was it. That was the Thursday and I rode the next Saturday.

On the first Saturday of the new season you won at Doomben on a horse for Harold. That must have been special?

There is no better feeling than having a city win for Harold. The win you mentioned was aboard Shauquin and it was special being my first city winner back.

They don’t come often. You get your share of provincial winners but city ones are hard to come by and it was a really good feeling to get one with Harold.

Juggling family life must be a bit of a task with a husband who is also a jockey and you guys having to look after two kids? You must have a very good family support system?

Absolutely. Absolutely. It is a bit of a task and, honestly, we do get help.

We have live-in au pairs to help us in the morning so Matt and I can both go to trackwork. I only go three days a week because that is enough if my baby is not sleeping through the night … but you have to have family support. We would not be able to do it without our families.

Matts mum stays over once a week to have the girls while we are in between Au pairs. My mum and dad have them a lot. Mum stays a night through the week as well and mum and dad have had the girls nearly every race-day since I have been back if both Matt and I are riding. Also, my sister helps me out a lot as well with dropping or picking Maci up from kindy if I’m not home in time from races. It’s definitely a juggling act.

An example in terms of the juggling act … last week I rode Sunday and Matt had the kids and he rode Monday so I had them.

The other aspect of having children as a female jockey is how it impacts on you in terms of lost wages. There is no paid maternity leave?

That’s right. It is difficult. Matt and I are pretty good at handling our money. We don’t spend it on stupid things. We have worked hard and we have done alright. Matt was going really well and was also riding extra trackwork to help offset my lost wages. Jockeys are seen to be running their own business, you see, so there is no paid maternity leave that women in so many other professions enjoy.

Of course, there are other women running their own businesses who have to deal with the same thing. The big difference for us is that the racing rule states that you have got to stop riding twelve weeks into your pregnancy and obviously woman in other walks of life can carry on working a lot longer than that … and the scales are loaded against female jockeys after they give birth as well because there is a fitness level required to come back to riding which far exceeds any office work.

So, there is a fair period of time off where lost wages can be a worry but you deal with it.

And when Matt says he wants to go to, say, Darwin to ride, does he ask?

He asks … but he implies. He is already going but he asks to see how I will react. I don’t mind.

Matt has worked hard for twelve, eighteen months … riding work every day for six days of the week. He needs and is entitled to a break so he has gone to Birdsville for a working holiday which gives him a bit of a break from trackwork and that.

And riding against Matt in a race. Are you extra competitive?

No. It’s just like riding against anybody else really. It’s your job in the end and that’s how you go about it.

Things are moving along on another front. I believe you guys have just treated yourself buying a big, new property?

Yes. We have been planning on buying a place for a long time. Nothing had come up with regard to what we wanting and what we were looking for in our price range … and then this place popped up.

It’s five acres. It’s for the horses. Already we are going to have one of the owner’s mares that he is putting into foal with Spill The Beans here while she is in foal and when her foal drops she will stay here until the next phase. It is exciting.

We’ve been in it for seven weeks now. It’s beautiful. We love it … but it wasn’t easy getting there.

At the time the property came up for sale we were still trying to sell our place on the Gold Coast and it just wasn’t happening. We looked into renting our place out to buy this other one which we really loved.

Things were looking really down for a good few weeks there and we actually talked about hiring a caravan and going for six months with no bills and having a bit of a let up with nothing to worry about … and then suddenly it all came together and we moved in.

It all happened at once. I came back to riding. The settlement on the house came through and we moved in. Nothing was happening and then it all happened.

Anything else you would like to add?

I have to get back to Harold again. I would really like to say a very sincere thank you to him and his owners for all of the support they have shown me over a long period of time … and for the support they continue to show me.

I’ve never felt any pressure riding his horses. Mostly they are horses like my own that I know like the back of my hand. There is never pressure. It is just, go out and ride your race and I know there is no repercussions if the race doesn’t pan out or go to plan. Harold lets you go out and do your best and if the race doesn’t pan out well it is left there.

There is always next time and although I want to ride them all perfect there are times where that just doesn’t happen and sometimes it can’t be helped.

Harold has also been incredibly loyal to me. When Lucky Tom was a three-year-old he sent me down to ride horse in the Group 3 Caulfield Guineas Prelude and the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas itself. He also kept me on for the Fred Best and the Queensland Guineas in the same season. That sort of loyalty doesn’t happen that much anymore.

That was in 2014/15 season and he is still my biggest supporter.

I just can’t thank him enough!

More articles

It's exciting … Lani Fancourt has joined the HRO team
It's exciting … Lani Fancourt has joined the HRO team
Matt and Rikki Palmer
Matt and Rikki Palmer
Rikki … a winner on and off the track

With Matt, Maci and Piper (above) ...
Rikki … a winner on and off the track

With Matt, Maci and Piper (above) ...
 … with Shauquin after a city win at Doomben
… with Shauquin after a city win at Doomben
At trackwork … just part of the juggling act
At trackwork … just part of the juggling act
Rikki winning the 2014 Listed Phoenix Stakes on Lucky Tom, a horse very close to her heart
Rikki winning the 2014 Listed Phoenix Stakes on Lucky Tom, a horse very close to her heart
The present day … Rikki and Matt … at work, going out ready to race against each other
The present day … Rikki and Matt … at work, going out ready to race against each other
Rikki … racing against Lani ...
Rikki … racing against Lani ...
… and they both enjoy every minute of it
… and they both enjoy every minute of it
Harold Norman …

'He’s been that good to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better boss. I just can’t thank him enough! 
 Rikki Palmer

Photos: Graham Potter, Ross Stevenson and supplied
Harold Norman …

'He’s been that good to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better boss. I just can’t thank him enough!
Rikki Palmer

Photos: Graham Potter, Ross Stevenson and supplied
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