The role a Levin woman played in one of New Zealand's greatest sporting triumphs has come to light with the screening of a television movie recently.

The Kiwi story, which aired on prime-time television on Waitangi Day, was one of the great New Zealand sporting yarns of a farm-trained horse from Waverley that won Australia's most famous race, coming from last on the home turn.

For Levin woman Dianne Eckersley, watching the movie at home with her husband Kevin, it was a trip down memory lane.

Dianne rode Kiwi in his first four Raceday starts, beginning with a second in his first race at Wanganui in December 1980.


She remembered settling Kiwi at the back of the field and the handsome chestnut storming home at the finish, a trait for which he would become famed.

"They (film-makers) spent three or four days here, a few hours each day," she said.

The pair won on New Year's Day at Stratford over 1200m at his second start, before placing sixth at Wellington, and then third at Wanganui.

Then disaster struck. Dianne was seriously injured in a fall at the Bulls trials that cut short a riding career that looked destined for greatness, and she ended her association with Kiwi.

She suffered head and facial injuries and, even now, it was hard to look at photographs taken when she was in hospital.

Kiwi's trainer, Snow Lupton, and his wife Anne would regularly ring to check on her recovery, with a reunion with Kiwi in the back of their minds.

But it wasn't to be. Jimmy Cassidy, now a cult figure and racing legend, would forever be immortalised in this country for winning the 1983 Melbourne Cup on Kiwi.

Cassidy, from Upper Hutt, was 18 years old at the time and never doubted Kiwi's ability to win.

Dianne said she became great friends with Cassidy after an initially frosty relationship. She was a natural lightweight rider, and he would often suggest horses she could ride that were weighted too low in the handicap for him.


"I was going to hook him after a race at Hāwera one day, but after that we became great mates," she said.

Meanwhile, knowing the extent of her injuries from that fall, many racing followers doubted Dianne would return to the saddle. But she did, and 18 months later was back at the races.

Eckersley was one of a handful of women jockeys in a trail-blazing era that tore down prejudices and led the way for women jockeys.

Times have changed, and of the 194 jockeys currently registered in NZ, 81 are female. There are 29 female apprentice jockeys compared to 26 males.

While her male counterparts had their own changing rooms, female jockeys were forced to change in a caravan at the back of the grandstand and use the public facilities alongside punters.

Dianne said the male jockeys were always supportive of her.

"They would always yelling out to me during a race "how you going Dianne, you going all right?" I was pretty lucky. They were all good," she said.

In July 1978, Vivienne Kaye, Joanne Hale, Joanne Lamond and Sue Day were the first NZ females to ride on raceday, with Walsh the first to win a race one week later.

Dianne rode her first winner on Blue Defence later that same year at Waverley, trained by her father P.J. Moseley.

She was the first women to ride a Group One winner when Double You Em, also trained by her father, won the $155,000 Doomben Cup in 1982, which was Brisbane's richest race at the time.

Dianne had five scrapbooks bulging with newspaper clippings. She rode 199 winners in a time when there were fewer races, and twice as many jockeys.

She met the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1981 when invited aboard the H.M. Yacht Britannia, along with fellow jockey Bruce Compton.

But after a second horrific fall resulting in further head injuries at Hāwera a year later, she and Kevin made a decision that she would retire from riding altogether.

Her brother Terry Moseley still rides today.