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By Graham Potter | Friday, January 10, 2020

Graham Potter writes a weekly column for the Sunshine Coast daily. Due to demand from those having trouble accessing the paper these columns are now also published on HRO courtesy of the Sunshine Coast daily.

Give it up for Steph Thornton.

The young rider deserves every praise for earning the distinction of being the only female jockey to be engaged in either of the featured $2 million races on Magic Millions race-day … and you can highlight the word ‘earned’ in thick black letters.

The Magic Millions 2yo Classic race is no place for the faint hearted. It has been a battle royal for some runners just claim a place in the starting line-up and that combative element is then invariably taken into the contest itself where no quarter is asked for or given.

It can even be a rough affair with connections generally opting for established, big name riders to guide their horses through that potential minefield.

Again, that is mostly the case on Saturday. Kerrin McEvoy, Damian Lane, Tommy Berry, Hugh Bowman, Nash Rawiller, Damian Oliver, James McDonald, Brenton Avdulla … to name a few … will bring all of their combined, considerable level of expertise to the game and you can be certain that other jockeys were phoning around to get a ride in the big race once the final field had been settled, but the rider with an ‘a’ (apprentice) next to her name needn’t have worried.

The connections of the chestnut filly Gotta Kiss, whose only jockey in three starts (two wins and a second placing) has been Stephanie Thornton, gave Thornton their vote of confidence which essentially translated into a nice show of loyalty to the less experienced rider … a script which is not always followed when big money races come around.

That vote of confidence was no ‘gimme’. As I said in the opening, it had been well earned by Thornton.

Since relocating to Queensland Thornton has arguable been the rider of the season so far (in a close call with another apprentice, the very impressive Baylee Nothdurft who is the only other apprentice with a ride in either of the $2 million races).

Certainly, Thornton has been the find of the season.

Sure, Thornton has been given plenty of opportunity, particularly by the Steven O’Dea stable, amongst others, but opportunity is only really relevant if it is grasped by both hands and turned into a success story.

That, Thornton has done in no uncertain terms.

Thornton currently sits in second place on the Brisbane Apprentice Jockey Premiership ladder and fourth on the Brisbane Jockeys Premiership itself with an impressive total of thirty-one winners.

Add in the part she has played in helping to get Gotta Kiss to the big one and the last six months have really been an extraordinary time for her as she has been given the freedom to showcase her skills and progress ability-wise with each passing victory.

On Saturday Thornton goes out to bump elbows with the best riders in the land. With the resolve that has carried her this far, you can bet she won’t be intimidated at all and that she will give Gotta Kiss, who is currently sixth in the betting at a price of $14, every chance in the running.

In one sense it is an experience that is to be enjoyed but, as they say, the better you do the more you enjoy it … and we all know where Thornton will be aiming.

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Stephanie Thornton reacts happily at the barrier draw after her mount Gotta Kiss drew barrier 4 in the 2yo Classic
Stephanie Thornton reacts happily at the barrier draw after her mount Gotta Kiss drew barrier 4 in the 2yo Classic
In good company … Thornton at the beach gallops with Michelle Payne …
In good company … Thornton at the beach gallops with Michelle Payne …
… just warming up for the big day
… just warming up for the big day
… and loving it

Photos: Graham Potter
… and loving it

Photos: Graham Potter
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