Leah Kilner gives family horse Charlee Bear a cuddle.
Leah Kilner gives family horse Charlee Bear a cuddle. Adam Hourigan

Boxing Day bliss for Leah Kilner

RACING: While she waited years to finally get the nod of approval to begin her riding career from her dad, Greg, Leah Kilner wasted no time to bring up her first winner in the saddle.

After doing the hard yards in barrier trials and jump outs, Kilner got her licence just in time for Boxing Day.

The 19-year-old made her racing debut on track at Ballina, riding her first race as an apprentice for her dad when she finished just outside of the money.

She backed that up in the second race with a second place on board Cathy Chapman's Green Cash, but it was the third race of the day when it all came together for Kilner.

A strong run on the fence, Kilner found an opening as the heads turned for home and booted through under the field to win on board Paroo River.

What made it even more special was the gelding is trained by Terry McCarthy, a long-time friend of Kilner's dad Greg.

While there was no doubt Leah was brandishing a huge grin, it was more than matched by the smile on the face of her father, who was beaming with pride after the race.

"It doesn't get much better than that in terms of Christmas presents,” Kilner said. "The best thing about the win was it was for one of dad's best mates.

"It was just that extra bit special.”

Despite it being her first race meeting as a professional rider, Kilner said the nerves had not gotten to her at any stage.

"I have done years of show riding and pony club, I just love being in the saddle,” she said. "I thought the nerves might get the better of me, but as soon as I was on the track I just switched on.”

Kilner needed nerves of steel as the end of the David Hoey Electrical Class 2 Handicap (1010m) became a battle of the young and the old of Grafton.

Stalwart trainer Neville Stewart had his heart in his mouth as seasoned mare Falsified loomed late in proceedings, to only be pipped by half a length.

"When I first went for the cutaway, he really let down underneath me and I just knew we were going to win it,” Kilner said.

"Out the corner of my eye I did see yellow colours flashing late, but I did pushed him a little hard, willed him to keep going and we got there.

"He hit the line hard and won it pretty comfortably in the end. It was a special moment.”

Kilner didn't have long to bask in the victory though, with the apprentice booked to ride at Coffs Harbour yesterday and Port Macquarie on Monday.

MEANWHILE, Neville Stewart didn't have to wait too much longer to find the winner's circle when stable newcomer Cantillate scored a strong win in the 900 2LM Benchmark 54 Handicap three races later.

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