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Image: Darren Winningham

Tiffani Brooker will have the distinction of being the only female rider in this year’s $2 million Magic Millions Two-Year-Old Classic where she will ride the Mick Mair trained Sneaky Starter.

Brooker hasn’t had the easiest time in recent years … on a couple of fronts!

Firstly, after spending a frustrating period of several months in pain trying to sort out the specifics of an injury, she ultimately was forced to spend a lengthy time out of saddle and then chose to extend the length of that break herself in order to reset and reenergise.

The problem stemmed from an incident in July 2018 when a horse Brooker was riding played up in the gates hurting Brooker’s back.

The exact nature of the injury was not initially diagnosed leaving Brooker’s career in a stop/start mode as she gave riding a break because of the pain, tried to pick it up again, then had to give it a break again because of the lingering issues.

Over a period of months Brooker saw various doctors and specialists for various aches, nerve pain and migraines. There was a long waiting time to get to see certain specialists and then some significant downtime again waiting for test results and second opinions.

“In the end I saw two neurologists, an osteopath, a neuro-surgeon, a spinal specialist … and there were lots of visits to the doctor, three MRI’s … and just so much waiting,” said Brooker at the time.

“Finally, it was established I had slipped two disks in my neck months before which wasn’t picked up until later. In addition, when trying to come back too quickly, I had damaged my sciatica nerve.”

Time out of the saddle … or rather what a jockey does with that time and what mindset might takeover their thinking … sometimes is as big a burden to jockeys as any injury and it was then that Brooker opted to take an extended time right away from the sport.

“It does wear you down. There was a time when I wasn’t doing anything at all and I pretty much realised I can do nothing, so I got to the point where I decided to take a couple of months right away from racing,” said Brooker.

Brooker only returned to riding many months later in June 2019 … but her troubles weren’t over yet.

Shortly afterward returning, after only being back riding for a couple of months, she picked up a nine-month disqualification for returning a positive sample for prohibitive drugs.

That obviously translated into another serious setback, but Brooker took the punishment on the chin, did her time and returned once again in November 2020.

“During both of those periods when I was sidelined for a lengthy period of time, it was never a case of whether I would come back. It was always a case of when. That was never a close call,” said Brooker.

Since then, it has been a case of slow but steady progress for Brooker, who currently sits second on the Sunshine Coast Jockey’s Premiership ladder, and her work and focus has now been rewarded with a place as one of only sixteen riders who will face that starter for the Magic Millions Two-year-Old Classic. All credit to her for that.

“As far as Sneaky Starter is concerned, I have been on her for both of her wins,” said Brooker. “I didn’t have anything to do with her leading up to her first start run so I went into that a bit unknown.

“She obviously won pretty convincingly there and then obviously progressed and has won again in a better sort of company.

“She is not much to look at. She is little. She is plain … but she is just one of those horses, from even when I first sat on her, that just does everything right. She wants to please.

“Mick Mair has been incredibly good to me. I had a fair bit to do with Mick when I did my apprenticeship. Mick and Belinda were very good to me back then. With Mick being a very good trainer (Mair won the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate with Swiss Ace), it was very good for me to work with him coming through … mentor-wise.

“Since Tegan (Harrison) has been out injured they’ve been really supporting me with pretty much anything I want to ride in the stable. They have been really good to me.

“Going into Saturday … Sneaky Starter (who is a $101 chance) will obviously need to improve a fair bit to do well against those top-class horses, but they are two-year-olds, and anything can happen with two-year-olds.

“I think Sneaky Starter has got a first-time owner in her and for them to have a runner in the Magic Millions straight up is obviously very exciting for them … and its my first ride in the race too … so, win lose or draw, I think we’ll all just be happy to be there.

“We just hope that she does her best and comes home safe.”

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