Pukekohe's Alysha Collett has saddle, will travel!
Alysha Collett’s motto is pretty simple these days - "have saddle, will travel.” It stood her in good stead when answering a distress call from Awapuni trainer Gary Vile that saw her rack up back-to-back Group successes on Sunday.
"I only took the rides at 4pm yesterday and booked my flights last night,” Collett said, after taking out the Gr.3 Hotel Coachman Manawatu Cup on Jacksstar and Gr.2 Kamada Park Manawatu Challenge Stakes on Miss Appleton. While she was "pretty happy” with the day’s results she admitted it could have ended rather differently. Collett said she had a missed call about heading to Gore to ride today instead. "Imagine if I’d gone down there and those two horses had won at Awapuni, I would’ve cried!”
The 22-year-old is making a big impression this season, currently sitting on 37 wins, along with Kelly McCulloch and Chris Johnson, behind Danielle Johnson, on 45 in the National Jockey’s Premiership.
Despite this, chasing the premiership isn’t a focus. "I just want to ride,” she said. "I know the more I work the more money I make!”
Collett attributes her decision to become a jockey to brother Jason’s early success. "Jase was getting good and had bought a new car,” she explained. "I could see you could make money from riding and figured if he can do it and be good, then I could.”
It was hardly a surprising career choice given her pedigree. Dad Richard, now a successful trainer, had ridden over jumps before joining his father Don in a training partnership. On the female side, mum Judy was a trailblazing South Island hoop apprenticed to the incomparable Jim Tomkinson. Judy’s father Ron Hawes was a leading jumps jockey of his generation.
"The family was always involved in racing and I loved going to the races,” Collett recalled. "When Tash [older sister Natasha] rode it didn’t really appeal to me, it wasn’t until Jase started. I always had an advantage over him!”
Despite poking fun at brother Jason, Collett relies on his advice and speaks to the one she calls "the favourite child” regularly. She also followed in his footsteps when winning the Auckland District Apprentice Board scholarship which saw her spend time riding for the Chris Waller stable in Sydney.
She said the differences between the local scene and the intensely competitive Sydney circuit were immediately obvious. "It was more serious, more professional, you noticed the pressure straight away,” she said. "It was cool riding against jockeys you’d seen on TV. They were all very nice, not arrogant at all.”
"They want to see you do well, so they will watch replays with you and point things out,” she said. "They want to keep the quality high.”
One aspect of riding in Sydney which Collett has adopted since returning to New Zealand is seeking professional assistance from a sports psychologist.
"I went to one in Sydney when I kept getting suspended, it is not unusual in Australia,” she explained. "If you’re letting bad experiences get you down it helps you put things into perspective. Probably the best advice I’ve had was to rid myself of negative and toxic influences and situations.”
Taking that on board Collett is now looking forward and focusing on her next career goals.
"I want to win a Derby or an Oaks, Jase hasn’t managed one yet and he’s still out with a broken foot, so my hopes are high,” she laughed. "I’d love to win a Group One for dad, he’s got some nice horses coming up.”
While she is yet to snag a New Zealand Group One, Collett does have the honour of being the inaugural winner of the NZB Cup at Korchin in Inner Mongolia which was billed as a Group One event.
"It wasn’t how I was expecting my first group one to be,” she said. "Cousin Sam was going and she put my name forward and I was asked to go. It was an experience and they really looked after us. The owners really get into it too, with high fives and cheering.”
While many jockeys these days rely on managers to book their rides Collett prefers the personal approach. "I like talking to owners and trainers myself,” she said. "I probably make the wrong decisions sometimes but I do try and stay loyal.”
Fortunately for Collett and the Gary Vile stable she made the right decision this weekend.
- NZ Racing Desk