Tracy O'Hara vows to ride for lost friend Carly-Mae
IN THE jockeys' room at Callaghan Park on race days they were the best of mates chatting away, giggling, gossiping and naturally discussing horses and racing.
However, as soon as the race day attendant called "jockeys please" that all changed.
Instinctively their fiercely competitive professional nature kicked-in and they became rivals on the track in quest of winning.
Such is the "sisterhood" of female jockeys and fallen jockey - Rockhampton's Carly-Mae Pye, 26 who passed away on Tuesday - and her confidant Tracy O'Hara, 29, were no different.
"We were best mates on and at the track. We worked horses together at track work each morning and saddled up alongside each other. The impact of the tragic loss of Carly-Mae's life has devastated me", Ms O'Hara said yesterday.
On Monday just after 11.30m as Carly-Mae lay stricken on the track at Callaghan Park after her mount broke its front legs and fell on her, Tracy O'Hara's heart sunk as she raced from her vantage point in the grandstand.
"It was just horrendous watching the fall. I was sickened as I ran to be with Carly-Mae on the track," said Tracy.
Admitting the death of her best friend Carly-Mae and the circumstances surrounding it had initially affected her deeply, Tracy described the frenzied yet eerie scene when she arrived at Carly-Mae's side.
"It was so sad. I really mean it when I say I consider myself so lucky to have been there and to be able to hold Carly's hand as she lay on the track. I just kept holding her hand," she said.
"Tim (Cook, Carly-Mae's partner) was there and so was trainer Ray West. It was so sad but I was blessed to be there.
"I just kept thinking I had to be there for Carly-Mae consoling her, holding her hand and it was so hard because her family naturally couldn't be there with her."
As the horrendous extent of Carly-Mae's injuries became apparent, Tracy admitted she "wanted to hide for the next 24 hours".
"I avoided everyone and everything as much as possible at first. The impact was so devastating, realising Carly-Mae wasn't going to make it.
"But then my strength kicked in and I knew I had to extend my hand of friendship to Tim as he was being so brave.
"I approached Tim and asked if he was going to start Carly-Mae's last winner Zaha Express (that he trains) in the race at Callaghan Park on Saturday. Carly-Mae was due to ride it," Tracy explained.
She said understandably at first Tim wasn't sure before saying, "I don't have a rider".
"I said you do now as I will and want to ride it ... and we have to do this for Carly-Mae's sake. That's what friends do. I got a release from Waffle from Andrew Suli which I had been booked to ride which was very good of him," Tracy said.
So on Saturday at Rockhampton racing's biggest day, St Peters Caulfield Cup Day races at Callaghan Park, Tracy O'Hara will don Carly-Mae's colours and emblazoned breeches aboard Zaha Express.
Tracy's ride in that humble Class 1 Handicap (1100m) will be the cynosure of not only the eyes of thousands on course but myriad Sky Racing viewers Australia-wide.
As she brings Zaha Express to the starting gates at Callaghan Park, Tracy O'Hara will not be alone.
Her "best mate" Carly-Mae Pye will ride with her, nestled closely in Tracy's heart no doubt, willing her on to win.
How fitting a celebration of Carly-Mae Pye's life would it be if Zaha Express raced with the wings of angels to win?
There wouldn't be a dry eye at Callaghan Park as the very thought of such a special win is what dreams are all about.
Such is the sisterhood of female jockeys and the joy they bring in both life on the track and the afterlife in the heavens.
They comprise about 25% (about 200) of the jockey ranks Australia wide and horse racing would be lost without them.
While presently Rockhampton racing is lost without Carly-Mae Pye, it has been all the richer for having this very special girl ride 200 winners in our midst.