Almost exactly three years on from a fall that could have ended her career, jockey Sarah Macnab made an unforgettable start to the 2021 Hawke’s Bay Spring Carnival at Hastings on Saturday.
The 22-year-old picked up her first Group success aboard Bellacontte in the Group 3 Hawke’s Bay Breeders’ Gold Trail Stakes (1200m), then guided Spring Tide to a desperately close second in the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) in her very first ride at the elite level.
“It was an amazing day on Saturday,” Macnab said.
“The Gold Trail was the biggest win of my career so far, and it was great to do it on a filly like her. She’s just so easy to ride, you can do anything on her and ride her anywhere, and she does whatever you ask her to do.
“And then Spring Tide ran such an awesome race in the Tarzino. It was my first Group One ride, and it was the biggest race of the horse’s life too – he’d never been tried at that level before, and he ran so well.
“There were few strides where I thought we might win, he was running down the leader really quickly. But he (Callsign Mav) is obviously a proven Group One horse, and he fought back again and just held us out in the end.”
Both Bellacontte and Spring Tide are trained by Chrissy Bambry, with whom Macnab is forming a strong association with six winners and four placegetters from 17 rides to date.
“That partnership’s going pretty well,” Macnab said.
“It just started at some jumpouts a few months ago, where she asked me to ride a few of her horses, and it’s carried on from there to trial rides, race rides, and I go over there a couple of mornings a week to ride trackwork for her. I’m really grateful for the opportunities.”
Macnab has made a successful start to the new season, sitting ninth on the national premiership with six wins to date, and her 42 wins from 544 rides earned her 17th place on the table last season.
Making her results even more remarkable, Macnab suffered serious head injuries in a fall at Woodville in September 2018, followed by lingering headaches through the months afterwards. She did very little riding through the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons and considered giving the sport away entirely, but since then she has made a spectacular return.
“It’s pretty amazing, I’m really happy that I was able to come back into it and have the success that I’ve had,” Macnab said. “I’ve had a lot of support to be able to do it, and I don’t think I could have done it otherwise.”
One of her biggest supporters has been Kevin Myers, with whom she served her apprenticeship. Of Macnab’s 126 career winners to date, 60 have been on Myers-trained horses.
And it was Myers who encouraged Macnab to follow in the family footsteps of her uncle Scotty and grandfather David and give amateur riding a go.
“Racing’s always been in my family with my uncle and granddad being amateur riders, and I just started riding work at Kevin’s when I was a teenager,” Macnab said.
“He was the one who suggested that I should try going into the amateurs and see how I go.
“He’s been a massive supporter of mine and really got me to where I am now.”
While Macnab will be eagerly counting down to a return trip to Hastings on October 2, where Spring Tide is likely to be late-nominated for the Group 1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m), she is keeping it simple in terms of setting goals for the season ahead.
“Just keeping going the way I am at the moment would be nice, so I’ll do my best to do that,” she said.