HORSE racing almost cost Cheree Gask her life – but the bubbly 38-year-old still describes the sport as one of her true loves.
And Gask will be back in the racing limelight at Oakbank on Saturday, conducting post-race interviews at the famed Easter jumps carnival from horseback.
She will ride Spook, an eye-catching 21-year-old tobiano paint horse, and the former hoop will speak to winning jockeys at the end of each of the nine races.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’ll be really good for everyone who’s there,” Gask said. “I’m not nervous about riding the horse at all … that’s awesome.
“I’m more worried about the interviews, to tell you the truth.”
Gask has made a remarkable recovery to maintain a career in horse racing, despite losing her leg below the knee after a horrific fall at Cheltenham in 2003. She is the manager of leading Adelaide jockeys Jason Holder and Joe Bowditch, while also raising two young boys, Mitchell and Elliot.
Gask certainly has strong connections to the two-day Oakbank carnival.
She is married to Barney Gask, who late last year ascended to the role of chairman of the Oakbank Racing Club.
And the couple lives at Verdun, less than 10km from the racecourse.
“I think there’s something special about Oakbank. It’s got a great family feel,” she said.
“Even when I was riding Spook at the track the other day, a grandmother came up with her teenage grandchildren to say hello. It was really nice.”
The track also delivered starkly contrasting experiences for Gask during her time as a jockey.
She enjoyed one of her finest moments when she won on rank outsider Bitski for veteran trainer Barry Brook in the 2001 Country Cup.
Then, a year later, she was involved in a serious fall that left her in a coma for three days, with some doctors suggesting she would never ride again.
“I’ve definitely had a couple of different experiences at Oakbank,” she said.
“They said I wouldn’t ride for 12 months after I was in a coma but I was back in 10 weeks or something.”
There’s no doubting Gask’s resilience and determination.
She also was back in the saddle just three months after the fall that ended her career and has tried to ride as often as possible since.
She recalls, however, that her first experience back on a horse was less than ideal.
“The first time I got back on a horse was quite funny,” she said. “Barney and I went for a trail ride.
“I didn’t have my (prosthetic) leg. I got a bit cocky and confident and started to jump some logs on the ground.
“That all went fine … but then I tried to jump something bigger. The horse jumped it fine but I bumped in the saddle and came straight off.
“So the first time back on a horse I actually fell off. I learnt not to be so cocky and confident for the next time.”
Despite some tough times, Gask’s love for horses and the racing industry has never diminished.
“Look, it’s my passion,” she said. “I live my career through the jockeys I manage. It keeps my interest and passion going.
“I was a pony-clubber before race riding. We’re in it for the love of the horses.
“One of the main things I miss is riding trackwork on those cold mornings with the steam coming out of their nose and the horses hoofs on the concrete before they walk on to the track.’’
While Gask is remarkably upbeat and says she has enjoyed a full and enjoyable life since her fall in 2003, it still has its share of challenges.
“December, January, February, last month … I’ve been on and off crutches for four months,” she said.
“I was on my leg for two or three days at a time and I was on antibiotics. So when you’ve got kids on holidays for eight weeks and you’re on crutches, it’s not that simple.
“But you’ve just got to deal with it. This is the card that’s been dealt to me.’’
While Gask is looking forward to Saturday’s action with nervous anticipation, she admits she could have some mixed emotions.
“In a way, it’s probably going to be hard for me. I’d rather be out there (riding in races),” she said.
Originally published as Gask’s heart racing on Oakbank return
SOURCE: newsnow sport