If there was a prize for the biggest smile at Te Rapa on Saturday, then fledgling jumps jockey Portia Matthews would be a leading contender to take out the contest after posting her first win in the saddle aboard Keyboard Warrior in the Waikato Busy Bees Steeplechase (3900m).
The 24-year-old was beaming as she received congratulations after the race that ended in dramatic fashion as eventual runner-up Locally Sauced was impeded by a riderless horse when lodging a challenge approaching the final fence in the home straight.
Matthews remained calm as she booted clear at that point and held on for a comfortable four-length victory on the Trevor Chambers-trained runner.
It was Matthew’s ninth ride over fences and a just reward for her tenacity in obtaining the mount after pestering Chambers since she combined with Keyboard Warrior at a point-to-point event earlier in the year.
“I rode Keyboard Warrior at the Levin point-to-point at the start of the season and I really liked him,” she said.
“I have hounded Trevor every single raceday since to let me ride him as I get on with him so well.
“I rang him up for the ride and he said to me that Gary Walsh was going to ride him but if he didn’t get on him, I could have the mount.
“Gary chose Locally Sauced so I managed to get the ride and I beat them all.
“It was just incredible coming to the last fence as I thought there must be a lap to go, he was travelling so well.
“There just seemed to be no-one around me, it was just insane and the crowd was going off which I think was my Mum doing most of the cheering.”
English by birth, Matthews and her family emigrated to New Zealand when she was nine and she found her way into racing while she completed tertiary studies in Hamilton.
“I’ve been around horses all my life as I come from a polo background as my dad was a professional polo player in England before we moved here when I was nine,” she said.
“I only got into racing about five years ago after I had done a little bit of eventing as well.
“I pretty much stumbled into it as the hours worked in well with my university studies, so I started working for Shelley Houston and taught a few horses to jump to start off with.
“When I was schooling horses over the big fences, I just thought to myself that I could do this.
“After finishing my degree in sports and exercise science at Wintec, I decided to give it a crack and I just love it.”
Such is her dedication to make a go of race riding Matthews is taking the opportunity to move to Palmerston North to link up with the Mark Oulaghan stable to further her education.
“I’m moving to Mark Oulaghan’s today (Sunday) to try and immerse myself in the jumping side of things even further,” she said.
“Mark has been really good to me and given me a couple of lovely rides to get me started.
“This is something I really want to do and this will help me with my career as I have worked really hard to get to where I have and this experience can only be good for me.”