Friends lock horns
By ADAM HICKS
THEY are stable mates of the two-legged variety.
Apprentice jockeys Chantelle Johnson and Josh Jones live, ride, and race together through the Stephen Lee stable.
Off the track, the friends share a lifestyle, but come Thursday, each will be keeping their race tactics a secret for the $20,000 Carlton Ballina Cup (1600m).
Johnson, 20, who is on loan while Tamworth remains on equine influenza lockdown, scored on the local racing scene with a win on Lost Weekend in an Open Handicap (1400m) in October.
In a strategic move by Lee, the first-year apprentice will shift onto Song Time with a two kilogram allowance for the Ballina Cup while the Northern Rivers champion Jones, 16, will stick on Felixtrinidad.
"They are good friends and that, but they won't know what the other is doing," Lee said.
"I've told them to keep their instructions secret.
"They have a healthy rivalry and will be trying to beat each other.
"They'll work out (each other's tactics) for themselves."
With 21 wins to date, Johnson could snaffle a victory in the Ballina Cup in what will be just her second meet in the area.
Song Time finished fifth in the 2006 Cup when ridden by Jones and has won in the wet and over the mile.
"If I had to choose I would've picked Song Time knowing he'll get the distance," Johnson said.
"For me this is a big deal.
"Stephen is good enough to give me a ride in the Cup and if I can win it would be the biggest of my career."
But she expects Jones will be hard to beat.
"He's a bit of competition for me, he's tough but he teaches me a few things," she said.
Jones said he enjoyed being the senior jockey to the older rider.
"She doesn't ride too badly for a girl," he said in jest.
"I pass on a few tips when she decides to listen."
While he respects Johnson as a friend, he said he wouldn't be doing any special favours during the race.
"It's my home-town Cup, you always want to win that," he said.
And after winning 95 races over the past year, Jones said he is a good chance on Felixtrinidad.
The four-year-old has struggled to recapture the form that saw him win the Country Cup (1400m) at Eagle Farm in August, recording a fourth and a second at closed meets since the EI outbreak.
"He'll get it," said Jones of Felixtrinidad's first trip over the mile.
"It's the way he races, he's so relaxed that he doesn't use much energy and can finish strong.
"He's just coming back right now and I expect him to do a lot better in the Cup."
But Lee said that Lost Weekend, who is expected to lead early, was his best chance given recent form.
"The three of them are a bit unknown on wet tracks really," he said.
"You can't knock winning form, so Lost Weekend has to be my best chance.
"She has won on a wet track but she's never been tried over the mile so it is going to test her."
However he still only gave Lost Weekend a rough hope in the Cup.
"Felixtrinidad and Song Time just don't seem to be racing as well as they were before the EI close-down," he said.
"I can't put a reason to it. I've tried and searched and thought about it, but I just don't know."
"Song Time has got to lift on his last start but if he puts his best foot forward, with that weight on, he will go well.
"Chantelle is a pretty capable little rider."
The granddaughter of top Sydney rider Barry Smith, Johnson comes from good stock.
"I was born into it, it's in the blood," she said.
"I was fat as a kid, too big to be a jockey so I wanted to be a trainer.
"But I started riding track work and lost a lot of weight."
It has been a tough few months as Johnson played 'musical stables' shifting from one EI affected town to another until she arrived in Ballina last month.
"I was really lucky. It's pretty hard for a girl to get a go because of the whole 'girls aren't as strong as boys' attitude," she said.
"It's still really hard work. Twenty-four-seven it is the horses. You start at 4am and get one day off a fortnight.
"But the thrill of a win (makes it worthwhile).
"The adrenaline rush you get during a race is major and you come home some nights still buzzing."