A beaming Julie Shephard brings her favourite racehorse, Buccaneer James, back to scale after a slashing win in the 1984 Orara
A beaming Julie Shephard brings her favourite racehorse, Buccaneer James, back to scale after a slashing win in the 1984 Orara

Trailblazing woman jockey


JULIE Shephard was one of the first licensed women jockeys in Australia, rode plenty of winners, loved horses and the sport in which she was involved.

She had loads of ability and courage and was always a crowd favourite.

No matter where she finished in a race there was always the famous Julie Shephard smile, a smile just a little bigger when she won.

She has retired from race riding but still does trackwork and work around trainer Bob Gosling's Golden Spur Lodge on the outskirts of South Grafton.

In all, Julie had around 1500 race rides and landed 135 winners, many of them in cup races. These included such as the Orara and the Diggers' Cups at Grafton, the Ken Howard Cup at Coffs Harbour, the Sam Hordern Memorial Cup at Tabulam and her favourite, the Deepwater Cup, on the Deepwater racetrack.

No doubt her fancy for the Deepwater Cup was because it was on her favourite galloper, the Grafton champion of its time, Buccaneer James.

Buccaneer James was not believed to be a wet track runner but that day with Julie Shephard aboard, the big chestnut led throughout the 1400m on rainaffected going to win the cup by five lengths.

There are many reasons for Julie having fond thoughts for Buccaneer James, a horse that won 36 races and Julie was the rider in 18 of those victories.

Buccaneer James, mainly owned by popular local businessman and well-known musician John Taubman, was sired by the dual Grafton Cup winner of the 1960s, Home James, and out of Ocean Lady.

Julie also holds fond memories of the string of gallopers with the Jacaranda name such as Jacaranda Princess on which she had her first race ride, and Jacaranda Spirit. All were among the offspring of the well-performed Jacaranda Queen and trained by Bob Gosling.

Another outstanding galloper on which Julie won races was the Mick Moy/Kevin Mulliganowned and Bob Gosling-trained Wards Mistake.

Wards Mistake won the 1983 Grafton Cup at long odds when ridden by the champion John Hutchings.

Julie clearly remembers Bob Gosling's riding instruction for Wards Mistake the first time she had the mount. That was in a 1900m race at the tricky Casino track and Bob told her to have Wards Mistake sit on the pace until well into the home straight before letting him have his head.

"I tried to follow instructions but Wards Mistake was too strong and wanted his own way, dashing straight to the front and leading throughout to win," Julie said.

Julie Anne Shephard was born in Grafton in 1958, daughter of Jack and Rita (nee Perrett) Shephard.

She had an older brother, Sydney (Syd), a high school history and geography teacher. Their father Jack was a carpenter by trade and was employed by NSW Government Railways as a bridge builder and line inspector.

Education for Julie was at South Grafton infants, primary and high schools.

Her main sports at school were hockey and swimming and she did well in both.

In swimming Julie was high school champion in her age groups as a 12- and 13-year-old and runner-up the next year.

"I really liked swimming and contested every event in my division, even diving," Julie said.

In hockey she played left inner for the South Grafton High with her team capturing the Egrade premiership in the Grafton Hockey Association competition and followed in successive years in winning the D-grade and finally the B-grade premierships.

After finishing school Julie joined the South Services Hockey Club but mid-season had to give that up as she became involved in the racing industry and her work prevented her playing on Saturdays.

"My first job after leaving school was with Coles when their store was in Prince Street," Julie said.

"However, working indoors did not suit me well and I started looking for an outside job, particularly one with horses.

"I have loved horses all my life and I used to ride a pony, a Welsh Mountain pony called Tommy, owned by good friend Rhonda Toms whose father was licensee of the Good Intent Hotel just across the road from where I lived.

"Sometime we rode the horse double and other times took it in turn and I revelled in every moment.

"In fact as well as Tommy I would ride any horse I could borrow.

"Dad's brother, Dick Shephard, had a couple of thoroughbreds too, which brought my interest into racing."

Julie would go to horse sales in the area and one day was at the South Grafton sales when her cousin Ken Shephard, who was apprentice jockey to prominent local trainer Bob Gosling, was there with the trainer who was looking for a young person to help out around the stables.

Julie who at that time was 16, applied for the job.

"Ken put in a good word for me which must have helped and to my great delight I was given the position," she said.

"I knew I would be on trial for some weeks but I was in seventh heaven. That appointment was in May 1974 and 32 years later I am still there.

"In those days there was no such thing as female jockeys although occasionally, very occasionally, there would be an amateur race for female riders at some track or other and I managed to ride in one at Coffs Harbour and another at Ballina."

As a stable hand Julie was doing the usual chores such as mucking out, hosing, riding trackwork and on race days leading horses into the parade yard and collecting them again after they had raced.

"While I knew how to ride, Bob coached me about handling, feeding and caring for racehorses and educating the young gallopers in jumpouts as well as how to shoe a horse," Julie said.

"I learned how to care for pregnant mares at the Golden Spur Stud and to help them in giving birth and then look after mother and foal.

"At the time Bob had six yards and 13 stables, all of which were full, and 20 horses in racing.

"In 1979 came the big policy change in Australian racing with women to be accepted as race jockeys.

"We were given the option of going to Sydney for specialised training and then doing 12 successful barrier trials in front of Australian Jockey Club (AJC) stewards and if successful gaining a jockey's licence.

"The other option was to stay in Grafton and be indentured to a five-year apprenticeship during which time you could claim weight dispensation such as 3kg at first and down to no claim, depending on the number of winners you had brought in.

"I had just turned 21 and I chose that second option.

"I remember my first race mount was on Jacaranda Princess in a 1200m Welter Handicap at Grafton and we finished fifth.

"Julie York, of Coffs Harbour, who had taken the Sydney option and become a fully-fledged jockey, the first in the area here to gain a licence, also rode in this race onboard Gold Merit and finished just behind me for sixth."

First winner for Julie Shephard, Brown Cavello, came not that much later in March 1980, in a 1200m Association Stakes at Lismore, beating the Graeme Birney mount Rego Rush with Rainbay third.

Brown Cavello was owned by Ina and Eric Bennett and trained by Bob Gosling.

Julie's services were in demand and in the 1982-1983 racing season she rode 33 winners in the Northern Rivers Racing Association area to capture the NRRA apprentices' premiership, a feat which gained her a Daily Examiner Sports Star award.

With the backing of the astute Bob Gosling stable behind her, race and cup wins kept on coming, particularly with a horse like Buccaneer James to ride.

She remembers most male jockeys treated her courteously, accepting her for what she was, an accomplished rider.

But there were a couple of incidents of discrimination. The one that sticks most in her mind was when she was riding in a Murwillumbah race and a male jockey trying to overtake her mount came out with the expression: Get out of the way and go back to the kitchen where you and other women so-called jockeys belong.

"It was with great joy that I beat him and won the race and in fact rode a double on the program," she said.

"I rode quite a few doubles over the years and I rode trebles at Grafton and Lismore."

The bane of all jockeys, race falls, also affected Julie and she recalls her most serious fall, when riding Jacaranda Spirit in the New Year's Day Inverell Cup.

"The horse in front of me fell and brought down Jacaranda Spirit and nine others," she said.

"Nine of the 10 riders involved, including me, were taken to hospital.

"Beside a black eye, severe bruising and plenty of skin off I had a fractured left collarbone and severe damage to the medial ligament in my left knee.

"I recovered but unfortunately Jacaranda Spirit's injuries were bad and the horse had to be put down."

Julie spent some days in the Inverell hospital and then in Sydney to receive treatment from the famed orthopedic specialist Dr Dick Tooth, along with physiotherapy, to correct the knee problem and in all was out of racing for six months.

"There were other less serious falls and after a narrow escape in June 1990, which I reckon told me 'that's enough', I decided to retire from race riding," Julie said.

"I ride trackwork and barrier trials and work around the stables and the horses I love but that is it."

Even though there is no more race riding she retains her warm personality and that Julie She- phard signature dazzling smile.

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