Emily Finnegan can ill-afford to miss any meeting if she is aiming for back-to-back Adelaide champion apprentice jockey titles this season, but when the chance of riding in another country came up, she wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world.
Last season’s South Australian metropolitan champion apprentice jockey is in Singapore for three weeks as the ninth Dux of the South Australian Apprentice Academy to benefit from the long-standing agreement between the Singapore Turf Club and Thoroughbred Racing South Australia.
The 25-year-old Irish lass currently sits second to Raquel Clark on the Adelaide apprentice jockeys’ premiership, 6 ½ winners behind (23 ½ versus 17), and eighth overall. Finnegan was overjoyed when the Singapore gig was confirmed, never mind if she might concede even more ground to Clark.
Emily Finnegan with Faaltless at the Shane Baertschiger stable, picture Singapore Turf Club
“Hopefully, Raquel rides no winners while I’m here!” said Finnegan, a winner of over 230 races to-date, including two Listed races, the 2016 Ubet Cinderella Stakes aboard Moshki and 2017 Dequetteville Stakes aboard Split Lip.
“It doesn’t really matter, though, as I will get an awful lot more experience by coming to Singapore even if it’s for only three weeks.”
After landing in Singapore on Sunday, Finnegan took her first three trackwork rides on Tuesday, all for trainer Shane Baertschiger, the “host mentor” to the South Australian apprentices in the last five years.
Finnegan is eager to take in as much as she can in the short time she will be here. Though she has only four years of race-riding under the belt, she knows all about finding her feet on a new turf.
The granddaughter of former Irish Grand National-winning jockey Cathal Finnegan, Finnegan actually began her apprenticeship in Ireland, but moved to Australia (in 2014) before she had a chance to ride in her own backyard.
“I spent 10 months doing a training course with RACE (Racing Academy & Centre of Education) at The Curragh when I was 15,” said Finnegan whose father had an owner-trainer’s licence for a year.
“I then had my work placement with trainer Mick Halford for one year. I still did my school exams as a back-up - just in case that jockey thing doesn’t work out!
“But it was very hard to get a jockey’s licence in Ireland as it’s very old school. There weren’t many girls in flat racing, they were mainly over jumps.
“Then my sister Leona migrated to Australia, and she told me there were many female riders there and Australia would suit me more.
“She managed to organise a job for me with Phillip Stokes and six months later, I moved to Australia. Phillip is easy to work for, and he has repaid me for my efforts.
“Australia is so different from Ireland. It has a different way of riding, horses are more relaxed and settled in Ireland whereas in Australia, they tend to grab the bridle, but I’m used to it now.”
With elder brother Cathal having also joined the two sisters in Adelaide as work rider with trainer Ryan Balfour (the youngest brother Andrew stayed back in Ireland where he is a mechanic), Finnegan feels well entrenched in South Australia, both in the riding ranks and off the tracks.
“Ireland will always be home, but I like the way of life in Australia. My ambition is to continue as a jockey in Australia for a while now,” she said.
“I did have one ride in Ireland at Leopardstown last year. It was for Ger Lyons who needed a lightweight rider in the November Handicap.
“We finished down the field but it was a good experience to ride for the first time on my home turf in front of mum and dad.
“They’ve come over in Australia to see me ride as well. Cathal wanted to come up in Singapore to see me ride, but we just went to Ireland for family reasons, and unfortunately, he had to give Singapore a miss.”
Family support or not, Finnegan intends to show the Kranji public she was another Dux from South Australia worthy of the nod. Last year, Hong Kong-born Matthew Poon became an overnight sensation with six winners in only two weeks while previous graduates like Jamie Kah and Jake Toeroek have also left a solid impression.
“I had a chat with Jake Toeroek and Krystal Bishop. They both told me a lot of good things about Singapore racing,” said Finnegan.
“I had a good look around on Monday and rode trackwork for the first time on Tuesday. The tracks are a lot bigger than back home.
“I rode three for Shane this morning. I was so worried I would go in the wrong direction on the main track!
“Shane threw me in at the deep end with a gallop first off. Luckily, I managed to do that okay.
“I believe Shane has booked me on a couple of horses for this weekend. I also met some trainers, which was good. Can’t wait for the weekend to come around.”
Baertschiger has booked Finnegan on Solaris Spectrum in the $100,000 Class 2 race over 1600m and Ace’s Wild, who is, however, an Emergency Acceptor in the $90,000 IRT Juvenile Stakes (1200m), the third Leg of the Singapore Golden Horseshoe series.