Overcoming the pain barrier
By MAX GODBEE
STEPHEN Traecey always had his mind set on becoming a jockey, no other job would do.
The man he admired most was his father, Bill Traecey, a successful jockey on the Sydney tracks and again later when he rode winners in New Zealand and racing around the country tracks of NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
Stephen wanted to be like his father and that is how it has worked out, riding winners galore, around NSW and particularly on the Northern Rivers, but also in nearby racing country areas as well as in Brisbane.
His path to becoming a jockey was not the easiest, having his indentures with a couple of trainers cancelled before he had a chance to prove himself.
But prove himself he has. He has ridden hundreds of winners and continues to do so and with his quiet unassuming manner, dedication and ever-ready smile he is one of our best-liked riders.
This has all come about despite something like 19-20 race falls, all dangerous, some serious and two which were certainly life-threatening.
He says that over the years he has broken about every bone that can be broken,
"Broken bones are unfortunately all part of the game," Stephen said.
On top of race and trackriding falls Stephen spent three years out of the saddle due to a one-vehicle accident.
It happened in poor light, early one morning when he was driving from Coutts Crossing to ride trackwork at Grafton.
He says he can recall little of the incident but was told his vehicle left the road and cannoned into a tree and he was tossed out.
The car was a write-off and Stephen's survival was in the balance for some days.
It was felt that even if he did pull through he would never be riding trackwork or winners again, his career finished.
Thankfully survive he did and after a lengthy recuperation he was fortunate enough to be given employment as an assistant steward with the Northern Rivers Racing Association (NRRA) head office in Grafton.
His mentor was one of the most dedicated officials in the industry, Northern Rivers Racing Association chairman of stewards, Fred Worrad.
After some time and much against the advice of many friends he decided to return to race riding.
He passed medical and riding tests under the supervision of stewards and was able to resume trackwork and eventually race riding.
There was much trepidation among family and friends but Stephen has made a success of returning to the racetrack, where many of his greatest rides and best wins were still ahead of him.
Stephen admits he has never kept records and does not know exactly just how many winning rides he has had.
Nevertheless we know he has passed the 1000 winners mark all up and his career is far from finished.
He hopes to add further to his success list during the Grafton July Racing Carnival, particularly on horses from the John Shelton stable.
Stephen has for many years been ace rider for that six-times NRRA premiership trainer.
He won the NRRA jockeys premiership in the 1998-99 season and was runner-up a couple of times.
Stephen says that throughout his career he has averaged around 50 winners annually.
There is no doubt that if asked what win gave him the most pleasure he would nominate the 2000 Ramornie Handicap aboard the Shelton-trained, Jim and Jean Snow owned-flying machine, Mother's Gift.
Stephen used the mare's great speed to lead throughout the 1200 metres Grafton event, finishing to the tumultuous cheers of patrons in the packed stands and along the fences.
His continued endurance among the top riders may be linked to his breeding, born a Balmain boy, son of Bill and Judy (nee McNeil) Traecey
He has two brothers Tony and Michael and sister Leanne. She lives on the Gold Coast.
Tony is a Lismore plumber, and Michael is another jockey, with many rides in the Grafton area, particularly during his apprenticeship in Grafton when indentured to former Melbourne trainer Gordon Shelley.
These days Michael is continuing his career mainly on the Gold Coast and nearby tracks, still piloting his share of winners.
Going back in time ?- when Stephen first began school the family had moved to Tamworth and he completed his kindergarten year at Tamworth Infants School.
At that stage the family moved again, this time across the Tasman to Woodville in New Zealand, where Bill Traecey was stable rider for one of the local top trainers Syd Brown.
Later Bill incurred a broken leg in a riding mishap and was forced out of riding for a time but became stable foreman for Brown.
Stephen spent the next few years attending primary school at Woodville and then the family returned to Tamworth and Stephen attended Tamworth High.
"With other members of the family I often went trail riding on a pony dad owned and before school I would ride trackwork and loved that too," Stephen said.
"I have to admit I hated school and left when I was 14.
"All I ever wanted was to be a jockey.
"My chance came when I went to work at Vic Thompson's stables at Rosehill, however, there was a mix-up one day when the walking track wasn't watered and I copped the blame and as a result Vic told me to go.
"Then I was apprenticed to another Rosehill trainer, Jack Norman, who won a Golden Slipper with the great filly Reisling.
"I had not quite qualified to ride in races but things were going well as I had ridden to stewards' satisfaction in nine of my compulsory 10 trials.
"It all came apart when I broke a leg in a fall and was going to be in hospital for quite some time, followed by more time off until the injury fully healed
"Jack told me he could not afford to have me off for so long so once more it was goodbye Stephen."
The family had moved on to Lismore, where Bill was a freelance jockey and for a while Stephen joined them until fully recovered and then started out again, this time to ride trackwork for Quirindi trainer Billy Thompson.
"I gained my licence after 12 months and was with Billy for most of 1975 and 1976 and then transferred to the Peter Cleal stable to finish my apprenticeship," Stephen said.
Peter Cleal can best be remembered in Grafton for his 1977 Ramornie Handicap win with Black Shar which was ridden in the big race by Queenslander Glen Killen.
Eventually Peter came to settle in Grafton.
Stephen used to come to the Grafton carnival, riding for Cleal and at times for trainers who needed a competent lightweight jockey who would ride to instructions.
When Cleal shifted to Grafton in the late 1970s Stephen came to the Jacaranda City too as a fully fledged jockey and has ridden countless winners since, including many district cup victors.
His undoubted riding skills and judgement of pace have seen him in two South Grafton Cups (1600m) victories, one on the Eric Bromfield-trained Victorian galloper Dear Boy and the other on the Newcastle gelding Blazing Cotten.
He also piloted Dear Boy to an impressive win in the then 2100m Coffs Harbour Cup and later won a second Coffs Harbour Cup on the Steven Phelps-prepared classy Ballina front-running gelding Maltese Beauty.
Stephen won a Casino Cup on Waweri, a Casino Beef Week Cup on Swift Lass, a Lismore Cup on Oh So Handy, Inverell Cup on Karate for John Shelton, and Ballina and Bowraville Cups, and on the Grafton track three Orara Cups, along with Maclean, Coutts Crossing and Jacaranda Cups.
Those cup wins of course add to his great victory on the grey mare Mother's Gift in the 2000 Ramornie Handicap.
Stephen says he is eagerly looking forward to the next couple of weeks and the fabulous Grafton racing carnival.