Alice Springs apprentice Dakota-Lee Gillett caps off big year

A beaming Dakota-Lee Gillett after the Alice Springs apprentice saluted on the Tayarn Halter-trained Noble War during the New Year’s Eve meeting held at Darwin’s Fannie Bay on Saturday. It was the teenager’s first win in the Top End. Picture: Caroline Camilleri (Darwin Photography Professionals)

Alice Springs apprentice farewelled an eventful year in style when she claimed her first win at her debut Darwin meeting at Fannie Bay on Saturday.

After making her riding debut on Policy, trained by her father Terry Gillett, at Alice Springs on July 17, the 17-year-old celebrated her first win at the 14th attempt at her fourth race meeting at Pioneer Park when she saluted on Hard Work Rewards for Leah Walling-Denton.

The teenager rode at two further meetings in the Red Centre before relocating to NSW in September to further enhance her skills under the guidance of Wyong trainer Damien Lane.

Apart from track work and trials, Dakota-Lee had the opportunity to ride at the Coonamble and Dubbo meetings in central-west NSW on October 28-29.

Two fourths from three rides at Coonamble was followed by two seconds from six rides at Dubbo before her fledgling career came to an abrupt halt following a car accident.

Suffering from broken ribs, Gillett remained in Sydney for a few weeks as part of her recovery before returning to Alice Springs where she had five rides on December 18 and celebrated a win on Fair Go for trainer Paul Gardner.

It was then off to the Top End on New Year’s Eve for the eight-event program at a very wet Fannie Bay where the apprentice, who can claim 4kg, had seven rides for Tayarn Halter (four) and Chris Pollard (three).

Gillett produced a super ride on the Halter-trained Noble War ($18), a back to back winner in Darwin in June, when the five-year-old mare held on by half a length to get the cash over 1100m (0-64) – it was also Heat 6 of the 2022/23 Lightning Wet Season Series.

Sitting outside early leader Brazenpine (Wayne Davis), an $11 hope with the top betting sites from the Phil Cole stable, Noble War, who drifted wide turning into the home straight, settled and hit the front with 350m to go before shaking off fast-finishing pair Manly Cove (Stan Tsaikos), Gary Clarke’s $11 runner, and Virtuous Miss (Nathan Day), Tom Logan’s $3.90 favourite.

Dakota-Lee became the fifth apprentice in 2022 to win their first race in Darwin following in the footsteps of NT trio Jade Hampson, Ianish Luximon and Emma Lines, and South Australia’s Stacey Callow.

Amazingly, Hampson and Lines saluted in their first career start.

Naturally, it was an exciting moment to win for the first time at Fannie Bay, but Dakota-Lee was as humble as ever.

“It felt pretty good, yeah, it definitely was a thrill,” she said.

“It got close at the end – they all came running from everywhere really.

“She’s a pretty good horse Noble War.

“She just kind of jumped and put me in the position I needed to be.

“I just held her steady and then she just fired on the way home.”

Darwin trainer Chloe Baxter was running the show for Halter, who is holidaying in Perth, along with Jade Hampson, who has returned to the Top End after a recent riding stint in South Australia.

“They didn’t want Noble War pushed out of the gates,” Gillett added.

“They said just let her jump and then just kind of see where I land and then just see how she goes.

“When I landed where I wanted to be it was kind of just perfect and then turning for home I basically knew I had them covered – and then she got to the 50m and she fired away again.”

Gillett, who was dealing with Year 11 and 12 studies, had to go through an arduous 18 month process in the NT and interstate before kick-starting her riding career.

A regular strapper for the Gillett stable, which also includes mum and trainer Leanne, during Alice Springs meetings at Pioneer Park before starting track work at 14, Dakota-Lee started to get serious about becoming a jockey when she was 15.

Travelling to Darwin, Queensland and South Australia for trials and apprentice school to improve her skills and technique were part of the course before finally making her debut in July.

So how did the first Darwin win compare to her first Alice Springs win?

“I think they’re all kind of special in their own way,” Dakota-Lee said.

“I think Noble War was one of my biggest chances and then it was going to be interesting to see how the others went.

“Neither ran a place, but I thought they all went really good.

“They all tried and that’s all you can really ask for.

“Hopefully, I can go back up in two weeks (January 14) and get another winner.”

It’s the start of a New Year, but Dakota-Lee is already looking to the future.

“I’m going to stay home and do the Alice Springs and Darwin Carnivals,” she said.

“Then just reassess and see where I want to go from there, but I’m hoping in a few years to make it to the city.

“We’re just seeing where things go, I just need to build my confidence a bit more.”

And it’s unlikely that the niece of former champion jockey Malcolm Johnston will forget her experience in NSW – both on and off the track – anytime soon.

“It was alright, I learnt a lot,” the teenager confessed.

“It was nice being in a big stable – you learn a lot from all the really good riders, you’re riding trials with them, and on race day they’re all so helpful and supportive.

“The best advice I received was probably when I had apprentice school with Corey Brown – learning how to sit on a horse, look nice on them and push them out.

“I stayed in Sydney for about four weeks to recover because I couldn’t fly home due to my broken ribs.

“I just had to wait it out, so I just waited with my auntie until the doctors gave me the all clear to come home.

“There was really no point staying in NSW with broken ribs, so I decided to just come home, come back to mum and dad and haven’t looked back.”

31/12/22 Darwin Racecourse – Race 5 Replay

1st: #7 Noble War | Jockey: Dakote-Lee Gillett | Trainer: Tayarn Halter

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