For apprentice Alex Stokes, it was a choice between medical school or racing’s school of hard knocks.
Stokes says the inspiration to become a jockey came from watching the movie Phar Lap when she was four.
After starting a casual job in the stables in year 10, Stokes waited until finishing high school before following her dream.
“I wanted to ride in the big races so I thought I’d give it a go as an apprentice,” the 23-year-old says.
“It was either that or study medicine.”
However, as a young female in a male-dominated industry, Stokes initially struggled to find a trainer to take her on.
She finally found support in Newcastle trainer Steve Hodge.
Almost three years later and with 97 wins under her belt, Stokes has proved she’s up to the job.
She is the only apprentice, and the only female, with a ride in the feature sprint race of the two-day Newcastle carnival.
Stokes will be aboard the Paul Perry-trained gelding Prince Braeman in the $150,000 Group Three Cameron Handicap, in which he finished second last year.
The race distance has been increased 200m since then, which she thinks will work in her favour.
“The 1500 should suit him a lot more,” she says.
She wasn’t expecting the ride.
“Paul asked me the other morning if I had any other big races planned for Newcastle. Then he said, if Prince Braeman draws all right, I’ll put you on him.
“It was a big shock.”
She says becoming a jockey is no easy ride.
“The first 12 months were hard. It was a big struggle getting rides because a lot of trainers didn’t want female apprentices,” she says.
Stokes was frustrated to see male apprentices who had started at the same time as her getting bigger and better opportunities.
“But in the end I just kept my head down and focused on work and started riding lots for Paul Perry. He’s been fantastic and given me the opportunities.”
She hopes to retain the support of local Newcastle trainers once her apprenticeship wraps up in May next year.
“I think every jockey wants to go on to bigger and better things, but if I can still get the support (from Hodge and Perry) then I’ll be grateful for that.
“The plan is to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down and stay focused.”