It’s fair to say that 38-year-old Ian French has tried his hand at a few occupations along the path of life, anything from apprentice jockey, to apprentice chef, to landscaping and commercial fishing. After hitting a hurdle or two in the racing industry, primarily through injury, today Ian French is back doing what he wants to do – being an apprentice jockey.

Ian explained, “The apprentice chef job was the end of my marriage. I was working long hours and was never home at night, so to cut a long story short we went our separate ways. I always wanted to be a jockey and a friend of mine, Errol Huddlestone, talked me into coming down from Mackay to Brisbane, so I talked to Pam O’Neill at Racing Queensland and did a Certificate 3 trackwork rider course and it went from there. I was going along okay until 24 March 2009 whereby I finished up with a lower back injury from riding trackwork. It was just wear and tear, but once I got the all clear from the specialists I was told that my apprenticeship had been cancelled by Racing Queensland – and so I had to find other things to do. I stayed around horses though by managing a horse agistment property at Samford and I eventually followed up Racing Queensland to try to get my foot back in the door again. I did a couple of months of trackwork riding to get my fitness level up and my weight right and then (Deagon based trainer) Jim Murdoch put me on as an apprentice to finish off my time. I’m getting a bit of a go with different trainers at Deagon riding trackwork”.

Ian’s interest in prolonging his apprenticeship got a welcome boost recently. He explains, “I also put in an application to Racing Queensland for an extension (of my apprenticeship) because I should be a fully fledged jockey now. Racing Queensland were understanding and accepted my application and I’ve now got another 12 months where I can use my claim to my benefit”.

Asked how his comeback was progressing, Ian replied, “I had four rides at Warra a couple of weeks ago (6/7/13) for a win aboard Ruling Miss for Jim Hanna and a second on Malibu Belle for Garry Osborne and a few weeks before that (8/6/13) I rode a double at Injune on Octello for Raymond Frazer and The Water Bomber for Cheryl Rogers. Recently I rode at Tambo (29/6/13) but I had to catch a bus to Augathella, as it’s such a long way to go in a car by yourself. So I caught a bus from Brisbane to Augathella (746 klms one way) and got there at 2 or 3 o’clock on the Saturday morning and a trainer who I had a couple of rides for later that day, Raymond Frazer, kindly met me when the bus got to town, so I went back to his place and had a bit of a camp and then we went to the races at Tambo. (Tambo is 116 klms from Augathella) Then at 10 past 9 on that Saturday night I caught a bus back to Brisbane”. Asked how much the return bus fares cost to Augathella, Ian replied “about $250 so it would have been cheaper for me to drive, but driving those sort of distances by yourself takes it out of you. I had three rides on the day and the losing riding fee is $165, so it still worked out financially viable to make the trip, but if you sit down and work it out, the hourly rate is very ordinary”.

Asked what his current normal week at work consisted of, Ian stated, “Jim Murdoch has put me on as a part-time apprentice. We’ve got four horses in work at present and another one in the paddock. Jim wants to build his stable numbers up, so I ride for him as well as Deagon trainers like Michael Lakey, Geoff Burns and a few of the others”.

To make his life even more difficult to manage, Ian is a sole parent. He explained, “My daughter Jordan is four years old. When I first got my licence I was taking her to all the race meetings with me and I booted home a winner on my sixth or seventh ride back and I got her in the photo with me, which was special”.

Asked who looks after little Jordan when he heads to western Queensland to ride Ian said, “My father actually looks after her when I go to work in the mornings and he also looks after her on race days”.

To this point of his career Ian has ridden 39 winners including two provincial winners, so he can still claim 2kgs in the country for another 11 winners before his claim drops to 1.5kgs and he can also claim 3kgs on the provincial circuit for another 18 winners before his claim drops to 2kgs.

It’s taken as read that the name Ian French will, like most jockeys, never make it into the Hall of Fame, but one can’t help but admire the steely resolve that he displays in the face of adversity, living out his dream of riding thoroughbreds and looking after his precious four-year-old daughter Jordan. I wonder in today’s society how many fathers would undertake a 1492-kilometre round trip to a bush race meeting by bus, arriving at an some ungodly hour like “2 or 3 o’clock” in the morning in the name of trying to provide a future for a young child? Ian’s back may have had some wear and tear issues along the way, but the heart is obviously in the right place and the eyes are focused firmly on the future – not the past.

During our discussion, Ian French paid special tribute to the Everton Park based Go 2 Human Performance for helping him get back to race riding. “They helped me when I first came back to riding with deep tissue massage for my muscle soreness. And they’ve also helped me with acupuncture and a diet and exercise regime, so they’ve been terrific”.

Ian French can ride comfortably at 51kgs and can be contacted for rides on 0498 139 719.

Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s the popular What’s In A Name segment from last Saturday’s meetings – as well as a look back at the Bluff meeting from last Saturday. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s the story of the New South Wales trainer enjoying Queensland Winter Carnival success operating out of Border Park, Tweed Heads, plus New South Wales driving sensation Lauren Panella won’t be at Albion Park Saturday night, but Justracing has an exclusive photo of the new track record sign that has gone up at Albion Park following Lauren and her drive, Suave Stuey Lombo, winning the Sunshine Sprint last Saturday week. On www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls continues looking at must attend race meetings around Australia and to that end today he looks at Birdsville.

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