Highly Geared runs for Kirkup at Rosehill

Highly Geared will take her place at Rosehill in the name of seriously injured trainer Garry Kirkup.

Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel said fellow Canberra trainer Doug Gorrell would take responsibility for the stakes-placed mare when she runs in the Mark Hughes Foundation Handicap (1100m) on Saturday.

Kirkup suffered abdominal and hand and foot injuries in a single car accident in the NSW Riverina on Sunday in which his partner, track rider and picnic jockey Samara Johnson, died at the scene.

The trainer has undergone two operations to repair damage to his bowel and remains in Canberra Hospital.

Once Kirkup regained consciousness from a second round of surgery, he made the poignant decision to race Highly Geared in Johnson’s memory.

Kirkup’s son Ben and the eight-year-old’s mare’s other owners were determined to run her on Saturday at Rosehill, and once Garry emerged from an induced coma, he agreed.

Doug Gorrel, who trains next door to Kirkup at Canberra’s Thoroughbred Park, confirmed Highly Geared would start as a tribute to the 25-year-old Johnson.

“Ben said his Dad would want to honour Samara’s life by racing on Saturday and now that’s Kirky’s conscious he’s confirmed that,” Gorrel said.

While Gorrel is overseeing Kirkup’s team, several other members of the Canberra racing community have also rallied to assist.

“We’ve all rolled our sleeves up, Matty Dale has been wonderful,” Gorrel said.

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“He’s brought track riders over every morning. He’s got 30 horses in work himself and there wasn’t any hesitation.”

Gorrel revealed volunteers had also visited the crash site in a bid to retrieve Johnson’s chihuahua Allen, who survived the impact but then fled.

“We’ve had five carloads of people there over the last three days looking for Allen because it means the world to Samara’s parents,” he said.

“A lady at was able to throw him a scrap of feed but he’s so petrified he won’t be caught.”

Gorrel said the racing community’s response emphasised how Kirkup, who rode trackwork for his neighbour, and Johnson were regarded.

“It’s just so tragic. Kirky and Samara were inseparable,” he said.

“Samara was just the nicest person. She had the biggest smile, she had time for everyone even if she’d had a tough day at work.”

Gorrel said he knew Highly Geared pre-race regime having witnessed it at close quarters and was confident she would justify her place in the 13-strong field with former Canberra apprentice Rachel Hunt.

Gorrel would be at Rosehill if required, though he preferred to stay in Canberra.

“We’ll have heaps of help at Rosehill regardless of who goes. I’d rather sit by Kirky’s side and watch it on the laptop,” he said.