In 2002 a very promising young apprentice called Kathy started in her first race.
It was out in the NSW scrub and was so long ago it was forgettable. Almost.
Yesterday, 19 years later and still an apprentice, that wee snip of a lass just booted home OLD HARBOUR (Your Song – De Sweet Soca Song) to win a heat of the Country Championships at Mudgee.
It was Old Harbour’s fourth win in a area from 12 starts. And Kath Bell-Pitomac, who claims 3kg in the city still, has ridden him in each of his narrow victories.
At Mudgee, her polished display beard no resemblance to her first ride two decades ago. She was masterful as she had him on the fence, saving ground but cluttered up behind the furious speed, then forcing her way into a gap at the top of the straight and urging him past Australia’s champion jockey Hugh Bowman on Amicus Curiae, Sydney’s champion apprentice Robbie Dolan on Chevconi, then holding off star Gr 1 winning rider Jason Collett on Amy’s Shadow and leading bush jocks Clayton Gallagher on HAMOGANY (High Chaparral – Skybound) and Nick Heywood on Healing Hands.
The win earned the horse a shot at the rich $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Champs Final and Randwick in early April.
So, we just wait and see if Kath is the rider in the big race.
Right now, at this very moment, her win yesterday rates as her biggest success to date and as mentioned, Old Harbour’s connections have watched Bell-Pitomac win 4 times from 8 rides and she has been runner-up on him 3 times.
There is an affinity there. A relationship between horse and rider that should not be messed with.
Michael Mulholland trains the horse who was very gutsy after hitting the lead with 200m to go and hanging on for a gripping but narrow win.
“I thought I had stuffed it up,” said Bell-Pitomac after unsaddling. “I thought I’d gone too soon, hit the front too soon and that every thing would run us down.”
Given this horse, back in September of last year, just 5 months ago, was getting run over in maiden races, that was a pretty fair assumption by the jock.
But nope, fate intervened.
Mulholland, straight after the race, said: “I didn’t think he was fit enough to do that today. He had a stone bruise last week so I had to ease off but he is a genuine horse, a trier and he loves to win.”
Then, without prodding, he confirmed what we all hoped, “Kath will ride him in the big race at Randwick.”
As for the elated 37-year-old apprentice, who took time off to become a mum, hence the incredibly long apprenticeship, she had her first ride at Randwick on 6 February in a Highway and ran 3rd.
“That was a fantastic experience but winning this race and knowing I’m riding him in the Final is a whole new level,” she said.
Hamogany is also going to the Final after he burst from the pack and flashed home at her late, failing by a head.
“As I was pulling up all the other jocks roared past and each one asked if I had lasted to win,” she remembers. “I didn’t know so I was listening for Col Hodges and he finally said over the PA that I had lasted.”
Fairytale for sure.