Ottley back in sulky after bad smash brings tears from frustration of being out, not pain

Even if the Harness Jewels provides the greatest moment of Samantha Ottley's career, she still won't be able to forget the worst - because she carries it everywhere she goes.

Ottley has a serious shot at the first group one of her driving career with Rocker Band in the opening race of the $1.2 million extravaganza at Cambridge on Saturday.

And the excitement she feels rivals the pain she had to cope with after a horror race smash at Methven in October which left her with a fractured vertebrae.

The fall, which also left top reinswoman Natalie Rasmussen with a broken arm, saw 25-year-old Ottley airlifted to hospital where she cried, not from pain but disappointment.


"I knew I was pretty badly hurt but even when I was having all the x-rays I also knew I was going to be fine long-term," says Ottley. "But when the doctor told me I was going to be away from racing for quite a while because of the injury, I had a few tears.

"I actually apologised to him for crying like that but explained that working horses and driving them at the races is all I know how to do."

The injury meant spending New Zealand Cup day on the couch instead of among the action of Addington but Ottley was back in the sulky sooner than expected, albeit with some pain.

"I ended up missing seven weeks and if I have a long day driving now my back can still be sore afterwards.

"Still, I suppose that could happen to anybody and things could have been so much worse."

She returned just in time, too, with boss Mark Jones asking her to travel to Winton to partner speedster Rocker Band in early January, the start of their racetrack association.

"I had been working her on the beach so Mark gave me the drive and he and Greg [Brodie, owner] have been great about keeping me on, even when things didn't go well."

That includes Ottley's Alexandra Park debut in March when she admits she simply got lost on Rocker Band.

"It was a weird experience and I can see now how it could take a lot of drives to get used to going that way around."

Cambridge's left-handed circuit will feel far more like home for the southerner who was the first New Zealand female to drive 100 career winners while still a junior.

Rocker Band has not raced since April Fool's Day but she has looked honed at recent workouts and is drawn behind likely early leader Miss Daisy, meaning Ottley's former boss John Dunn could hold her fate in his hands.

If Dunn, driving Miss Daisy, stays in front and Rocker Band trails her to the passing lane she becomes the mare to beat, so she has been heavily backed into $5 second favouritism.

But if Dunn's opts to trail, Rocker Band and Ottley could face a hugely more complicated task.

"I'd love to think John will stay in front but I can only drive my race," says Ottley. "But it is exciting to be part of it all and I've never won a group one so to have a realistic chance is awesome."

The partner who helped Ottley through the darkest days of her career won't be among her cheer squad, with fellow driver Stevie Golding having to stay in Canterbury to look after the lesser lights for his bosses Greg and Nina Hope, who have Monbet and Enghien as Jewels favourites. "This time he will have to watch from the couch," says Ottley.

Let it roll

• Samantha Ottley suffered a horrific fall in October.
• She returned just in time to start an association with Rocker Band.
• On Saturday, the pair can win their first group one together.