Emily Waters has been riding horses pretty much since she could walk.
Becoming a jockey is a more recent dream, one which will be realised on Saturday when the 23-year-old has her first race rides as an amateur at Albury's Picnics meeting.
On their farm near Tumbarumba, Waters grew up doing stock work and involved in pony club. Her father Mont was always into racing but it wasn't her own passion for some time.
"I was always not really that interested (in racing). Then when Dad got his first couple of horses personally and became a trainer, I was doing all the trackwork for him. That's when I was like, 'Oh yeah, this is good.' You get that feeling, get that taste and understand it more and more," she says.
The interest was furthered when sister Bridget went to work with Wagga trainer Scott Spackman a few years ago, and Emily has followed suit in what proved to be a perfect move.
"When I came here to Scott's, and he chucked me in that very first jump out, I was like, 'This jump and run feeling is unbeatable!' and it kept spiralling from there," Waters recalls.
Remarkably, that first jump out was on Rocket Tiger who would run second in the group two Silver Slipper, third in Canberra's Black Opal Stakes, and take on the best in the country in the $3.5 million Golden Slipper.
"It was awesome," Waters says of the jump out on the Spackman stable star, nicknamed Eddie, who has a personality that belies his talent.
"My sister used to ride the more 'go-ey' two-year-olds and I landed on 'Eddie' because he was just the quietest one in the stable," she laughs.
As her own first raceday approaches, Waters says the anticipation is building. She has two rides for her dad, and one for Spackman.
"A little bit nervous but very, very excited," she says.
Living in Wagga, Waters was to debut on her 'home' track at the Murrumbidgee Turf Club, only for the picnic meeting to be transferred to Albury. (The meeting was moved from a Sunday to Friday and then to Saturday which the MTC says created staffing headaches that prevented it hosting).
Studying to be a teacher, Waters says she's learning plenty working six early mornings a week at the stables, including from Spackman's old stager, Cryfowl.
The two-time winner of the Harden Picnic Cup is Waters' third ride at Albury on Saturday in the 1600m open trophy handicap.
"He's been amazing. Taught me a lot over the last 12 months," Waters says of the eight-year-old who she hopes to steer to an eighth career win.
Cryfowl won the Dederang Cup (1650m) in March, at the same meeting the Waters family's Miracle Knight won over 1000m.
"That was super special. Both pulled off the win that day which was great," Waters says.
Miracle Knight is her second ride at Albury in the 1000m class b handicap, but the family's more recent acquisition, Namarari, will formally begin Waters' racing career in the 1175m class three trophy handicap.
Previously with Andrew Dale, the five-year-old gelding has won three of 25 starts and is the clear top weight with 72kg.
Waters, who is also in the ownership, said the thoughts of that first race have been playing in her head this week.
"A little bit yeah. Obviously we'll talk some tactics with Dad and make a bit more of a solid plan (later)," she says.
"But they're not giving me too much (advice early). They don't want me to stress, haha."
Waters has ridden all three horses in trials. She harbours no huge ambitions for a career as a jockey, content to focus on study and enjoy racing and amateur riding as a hobby.
Spackman is thrilled to see her take this next step.
"I'm proud as punch mate, proud as punch," he said.
"This has been a long time coming, we've been working at it and working at it. She's like part of the family, everyone's right behind her. We've brought this old horse back for this idea, to get Em her licence and all things being equal, I'd love to see him win."
All of Cryfowl's wins have been on good or firm tracks and Spackman hopes Albury, a soft 7 on Friday, doesn't stay damp. Otherwise, he's primed for the mile.
"He's not a big fan of wet tracks but as far as his lead-up runs, they've been perfect for it, and Emily's work on him on Tuesday, his final hit-out, was spot on. I think she got a bit of a shock at how quick he actually can go," Spackman said.
Cryfowl is nominated to back up at Queanbeyan again on Tuesday in a benchmark 58 handicap over 2000m which will be his last run for the stable.
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