Juggling job and family key to Allpress success

By Jared Smith


On Waitangi Day in Tauherenikau Lisa Allpress joined New Zealand's galloping elite as the first woman jockey to ride 1000 domestic winners. But as Jared Smith discovered, there are far more important races to win off the track.

You get dressed up at home, drive in your high heels, [then] go straight to the jockey room. You have absolutely no life.

It's early morning at the Allpress family farm in Maxwell. Nice that it's a beautiful day - it helps for an early start to the farm work, although that means shaking off the cobwebs of arriving back from New Plymouth in the early hours after race day.

This was just supposed to be a Monday around the home for Lisa Allpress they're rare in summer so when the farm clothes are traded for a simple black top that afternoon, sons Josh and Angus look up in earnest from their DVD movie.

"As soon as they see you getting ready for something, they ask 'why do you have to race today?'," says the newest member and first woman of the 1000 winners club.

Angus, 5, especially has every right to question mum Lisa, who was only getting ready for the Wanganui Chronicle's arrival. When the bag is packed for an 8.30am departure to get to Waipa, or Gore, he knows he will be asleep when mum comes back from work.

"Your kids must need a picture to know what you look like," was one unwelcome, and unsolicited, comment from an annoying punter in Auckland which particularly upset Allpress.

She is very careful to plan three-day gaps in her schedule and give her boys as much quality time as possible.

Seeing a curtain open and quickly shut at night as she pulls into the driveway late after race day isn't the only meaningful sight Mum has of her boys.

She and husband Karl are raising good farm lads a horse poking it's head through the ranch slider as the Chronicle prepares for a photoshoot is nothing out of the ordinary - so 37-year-old Lisa comforts herself this non-stop life is all for the good.

After all, this 24ha home at Maxwell was her vision.

Go back about four years, jockey Lisa and trainer Karl are in Matamata, running faster on the treadmill just to stay in the same place. With a crippling farm mortgage, both are at the track constantly with 4am starts on top of parenting toddler Josh and six-month-old Angus.

Karl explains they had to pay a "small fortune" to their nanny whenever his wife rode. The more they did to get out from under, the heavier were the costs it just didn't add up.

"Lisa said, 'something's not working here, it's better for us to stay home'." And thus the move back to familiar territory near Wanganui. Sure, the work is still taxing, but it has clear purpose now Karl stays home and runs the farm, his family and her mother are nearby to help out.

So to make it work, Lisa puts her head down and rides. And rides. An average of 59 winners a year in 17 years. It's a job, pure dedication - no high-profile standing like Kim Clapperton or Lisa Cropp.

"Normally you get dressed up at home, drive in your high heels, get out and go straight to the jockey room," said Allpress about the less attractive side of race day. "You have absolutely no life."

So imagine, after the years of quietly travelling to all those country tracks in the middle of nowhere, avoiding the revelry of the bars and punters to stay in her bubble under the grandstand, having to deal with the sudden explosion of interest in the past two years.

First there was the race with Matt Cameron to reach the Jockey Premiership last year, a feat less glamorous than one might imagine.

Allpress is proud she rode more winners 159 than any other jockey that season. But financial reward? There was zero. No prize money, no congratulatory dinner it cost her more in expenses going to extra meetings than the previous year when she was runner-up. Talk of being invited to race in Japan or Hong Kong dissolved into a "pittance" offer of a midweek ride in Australia, truly a "kick in the guts".

Absurdly, for someone who has never understood the punter's lifestyle "I couldn't think of anything worse than drinking in the bar, talking up and down about horses" Allpress learned there were bets on the premiership.

Someone pointed out to her and Cameron that if they wanted to earn some cash, they could get together and "swindle" the system, agreeing on the winner between them while betting the other way, a suggestion repugnant to both of them. So while Allpress felt the eyes upon her last year, at least it was just within the industry.

Her career "blew up" in January when the media started noticing her win stats. The countdown was on - "994, 995, 996" - and suddenly life was magnified on every track as officials, media, and the public stood poised.

Remember, this was a full career feat - Allpress had gone through longer dry patches between wins, but now so close to a number which had never been a major consideration, it became an albatross around her neck.

"You felt scrutinised every time you went out. The phone was going pretty crazy. It would start texting at 6am.

"That's cool, it does help, but when you're not riding winners you feel like you're letting people down. You really want it to be over and done with."

Through this time, Allpress had been left shaken by the death of jockey Ashlee Mundy, who fell during their race at Kurow in late December.

Having known Mundy for a long time, Allpress has a silver bowl which she plans to engrave with the names of all the jockeys there that day as a gift for Ashlee's mother.

It took a bit of self-searching to get refocused but Allpress reminded herself that while this attention was all new, it was just another adversity, and adversity is a familiar friend.

Karl had mentioned there could be jealously in their industry, especially when Allpress was offered all the rides.

She thinks back to when she was 20-year-old Lisa Mumby and while at the farm of her mentor, Kevin Gray, a fellow apprentice jockey baulked at her 50kg weight.

"She said 'you might as well give up now, you're too fat'. That stuck in my mind. If you want something in life, set yourself a goal and you go out to achieve."

Forget the struggles in Matamata for a moment - there was a time growing up when Allpress couldn't even afford to buy a dog, which made owning a horse just a pipe dream.

So, she drew it all in and went out there at Tauherenikau. And got that damn 1000.

The albatross is gone and now Allpress is getting back to what's important. But, with the limelight, there have come some wonderful moments.

The achievement has touched a lot of people, as does her battler story. In the mail the other day were some bags of seeds from a lady who read that her sons liked gardening.

A blind, elderly lady in Auckland, who religiously listens to Trackside TV, dictated a letter to her son for Allpress. "You think from the way she talks about you, that you were best friends," Allpress smiles.

"It's just absolutely been amazing, the people who have sent stuff."

Reliving the stats means reliving some of the great moments. How appropriate that her first Group I winner was named We Can Say it Now.

In 2010 at Trentham, Allpress took the young female to the post in the 1600m Captain Cook Stakes, having drawn the barrier plus a mountain of expectations, despite the fact her mount was backing up from a race in Otaki.

"In the end she just blew them away, I was quite amazed how it unfolded," said Karl.

But Allpress still has little time, or interest, in reflection. "The drive and stuff is still there. Even just winning a maiden race still gives me a kick.

"You've still got this going [wanting] the big money races. Sometimes I look at my rides and cringe."

After that dry spell, she still wants to finish in the top three of this season's premiership. It will be a good way to sign off on this phase of her career.

Experience has taught her to work smarter, not harder, so from next season on, aside from the occasional big race in Auckland or Christchurch, she'll stay close to home.

Trainers like Gray and Wayne Marshment have been incredibly supportive over her career and she wants to repay that faith. She loves the hospitality at the Wanganui course. Hawkes Bay is good too, although there's a bit of a cost to the sandwiches there.

Allpress won't miss the trips to Gore, Wairau and Waipa being in the middle of nowhere on a Wednesday or a late Sunday no longer holds any appeal.

So the question remains, as the first woman to attain this feat, is this a blueprint for young women to follow in the industry. Are you a role model?

"They need to make their own direction ... If you're true to yourself, those values, that's where you should head."

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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