The grind of losing up to 3kg before each meeting – plus a dose of self-reflection after a horror fall last October saw eight metal plates and 47 screws inserted in her head – was enough to convince Krystal Bishop to retire from race riding at the end of the 2019/20 season.
Krystal, whose first race ride was in 2009, will end her stint in the saddle later this month, but plans to remain in the industry via a training partnership with John Dunn at Oakbank, plus her flourishing business working with breakers and pre-trainers.
“Why now? Just all my injuries, all my wasting,” Krystal said.
“I just need to look after my body – it’s had a pretty hard go at it.
“And I’ve set myself up so I don’t really need to do the riding.”
Like many jockeys, 27-year-old Krystal’s injury history makes for frightening reading: many broken bones, including two broken legs, major ligament damage, and October’s fall at Gawler that left her with a “shattered” face. In addition to the plates and screws, surgeons took a bone graft from her skull to “re-do” her eye socket.
Incredibly, she was back track riding within a month, and race riding after two months.
“That surgery was massive and I’ve got metal in my face for the rest of my life, although you probably couldn’t tell by looking at me,” she said.
“But I counted my blessings and made the decision then.”
While injuries have sporadically interrupted her career, weight challenges have been a constant, and the key factor behind her retirement.
Her pre-meeting ritual starts two days beforehand and involves fasting, plus plenty of hot baths and hot yoga sessions to arrive at her 54kg riding weight.
“If I didn’t have the weight issues, I’d probably keep riding,” she said.
“If I was 3kg or 4kg lighter, then maybe it would be a different story.”
Krystal has recaptured some of her best form of late, including riding a metropolitan winner at Murray Bridge last Saturday. She has 277 career wins to her credit, including a success in Singapore that rates as her career highlight.
“I got dux of the Apprentice Academy in the 2012/13 season, so I went over to Singapore, rode at four meetings, and was able to ride a winner there,” she said.
“I rode against Joao Moreira on his last meeting before he went to Hong Kong and he rode five winners that night.
“So to ride next to him that night and be part of that was probably the biggest highlight for me. It was pretty special.”
Krystal has ridden four winners in a day at Kangaroo Island and rode a treble at Morphettville on the first day of Racing.com’s SA coverage. She has ridden placings in numerous listed races, including this year’s Port Adelaide Cup on Disco Rebel, but is yet to crack a black-type winner.
Disco Rebel is trained by John Dunn, who has been a major influence on her career, and sometime after July 31, Krystal and John will form a new training partnership.
“I’ve been with him my whole time, done my whole apprenticeship with him, and I still worked for him after my apprenticeship,” Krystal explained.
“I always had a back-up plan for what I wanted to do, and that was always going to be training. I’m so at peace with the decision and that’s because it’s a natural progression.”
In a Facebook post, Krystal paid tribute to John’s impact.
“If I didn't experience the journey with John, I would have never believed it was possible,” she said.
“Every breakdown and believe me, there have been many, John has been there to pick up the pieces.
“I have learned most of what I know about horses from John. More importantly though John has taught me resilience and to always do my best for me and everyone around me.”
Krystal also thanked the trainers who supported her, her manager, and the riding group, describing her fellow female jockeys as “like sisters to me over the years”.
Krystal admits she will miss the buzz of race day, but for now is focused on going out on a high.
“I’ll miss the thrill of being out there and the camaraderie of being in the rooms,” she said.
“But there’s nothing better than riding a winner, so yeah, a few extra winners would be lovely.”