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Familiar name/new face to debut at Mount Gambier

A familiar surname will appear on the Mount Gambier form guide this Wednesday – but in a different column.

Sixteen-year-old Jacob Opperman, son of established Mount Gambier trainer Jamie Opperman, will have his first-ever race ride, on his home track.

One – Redeeka – will be for his proud father, who has actively encouraged Jacob from the moment the youngster expressed a desire to become a jockey.

“I’ve wanted to race ride probably since I started doing trackwork, when I was 14,” Jacob said.

“Dad’s excited – he’s pushed nearly as hard as I have to get me here. My mum (Rebecca) is a bit nervous, but she’s excited too.”

Living so far from the Adelaide-based apprenticeship school has presented challenges for Jacob and his family, who have made at least 10 trips for his industry training over the past six months.

Fortunately, Jacob’s resourcefulness gave him a head start.

“I actually taught myself how to ride on a mechanical horse, then I started doing trackwork,” he said.

“We borrowed it from one of Dad’s mates, then we bought it and now it’s in the games room. We’ve got a TV in there, so I put the races on and watch them in there while I’m riding it.”

In addition to honing his riding skills, the sturdy simulator helps natural heavyweight Jacob control his weight, which is currently hovering between 52 and 53 kilograms and is occasionally threatened by his enjoyment of “ice cream and soft drinks”.

“Yeah, it’s good for fitness,” he said.

“I put long pants and a couple of jackets on and have a sweat. It makes you work, so it’s good for that, and it helps you with your style, whip practice and that.”

Jacob has ridden about 35 trials so far, including at Morphettville, Oakbank, Strathalbyn and Gawler.

He has previously undertaken work-experience stints with a list of trainers, including Darren Weir, Ellerton Zahra Racing, and Strathalbyn’s John McMillan. His most admired jockeys include Victorians Mark Zahra and Damian Lane, plus leading South Australian jockey Todd Pannell and gun apprentice – and close friend – Lachy Neindorf.

Jacob realises weight could eventually force him out of the saddle, but he seems certain to remain in the industry – one way or another – long term, though probably not in the big smoke.

“I love it on our farm – you walk outside and the first thing you see is horses,” he said.

“We’ve got a couple cows out the back, and a track around the paddocks that we can work our horses on. It’s only about 36 acres here, but it keeps us busy during the school holidays, especially with the COVID-19 stuff at the moment.”

Jacob is currently doing year 11 at Grant High School, but like many students, has been away from school for most of the past five weeks (“I haven’t been complaining much about that.”).

However, in the coming days he plans to tackle some extra homework – on his race rides this Wednesday.

“With Redeeka, I’ll look at the speed maps, see how other horses in the race will run, and see what I can do,” he said.

“I have been doing some other homework, but mainly my Cert 4 racing stuff.”

Jacob said having a father with such a wealth of industry experience had been an advantage.

“Dad’s been in the industry for 30 years and he’s worked for John Hawkes, Mark Kavanagh and others,” he said.

“He knows his trade and he’s watched a lot of apprentices go through.”

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