It had reached the point where Tahlia Hope thought it simply would never happen — riding a winner at Flemington.
She has ridden winners all over Victoria; has landed big wins at Moonee Valley, Caulfield and Sandown (and has even had a day out where she rode four winners at Echuca earlier this year).
But Flemington always seemed the unreachable dream that had become, in so many ways, something of a nightmare for the usually upbeat apprentice.
It started with her first ride there — and she had no hesitation in admitting it was her fault.
A ride where she was on the back of an almost unbackable favourite and she simply timed her run all wrong.
The upshot was stewards deciding she wasn’t ready for headquarters and she was slapped with a 12-month ban from Australia’s most famous track.
Well it’s all changed now.
On December 15 she took out a $100000 handicap with Patrick Payne’s heavily backed Chamois Road to finally achieve a win at Flemington.
And to prove to herself it wasn’t luck, she was there just seven days later and did it again.
This time it was the $120000 Summer on the Lawn Handicap over 2000m with Lamborghini, another Patrick Payne horse but one sent out at the more relaxed odds of 7/1.
‘‘At one point after my last injury I really thought about giving it away — even when I was banned from Flemington it passed fairly quickly because I was out of the saddle for six months with a broken leg,’’ Hope said.
She has also broken her collarbone, elbow, ankle and ribs in a short career constantly disrupted by injury.
‘‘It was so frustrating, you would work so hard to get ahead and then every time you had an injury you would go backwards,’’ she said.
‘‘Now I am as good as I can be; the collarbone took a lot longer than I thought it would, so yes I have had to deal with a bit of grief early in my career,’’ she said.
She has also applied to extend her apprenticeship to make up for the time she has lost on the sidelines from all her injuries.
And has already held initial talks with racing authorities, who have indicated it should not be a major problem to add another 12 months.
Which would be a significant boost as it would enable her to maintain her apprentice claim for another year, making her a more appealing option for trainers and owners.
‘‘I have wiped my claim in the bush but am still good for 3kg in town — well for another nine winners anyway,’’ Hope said.
‘‘Once I reach that I will start dropping down to 1.5kg,’’ she said.
Right now her focus is increasingly on city rides, using her claim and building a reputation that might help people notice her potential among the legions of senior jockeys also competing for rides in the same races.
On December 22 at Flemington she turned on a mature exhibition of riding with Lamborghini.
The eight-year-old gelding was off the pace most of the journey and as the field started the turn for home it seemed as though Hope had nowhere to go, trapped behind a wall of horses.
But she stuck to the rail and waited for the slightest mistake by anyone in front of her.
And it came with barely 400m to run.
The horses in front of her shifted slightly and she swept up the inside and by the 300m line was in front and going for home, and was pulling up on the line.
Even the race commentator described it as a great ride.
‘‘She just stuck to that rail and in the end never had to go around a single horse to win the race,’’ he said.
I had ridden him to a second at his last start at Sandown behind Friedensberg and came here today very confident knowing he had a better level of fitness from that run,’’ she said.
She was right, while she saluted the judge Friedensberg had finished 11th in the 12-horse field.
‘‘Lamborghini had been out for a while and most people would be worried going straight for a 2000m.
‘‘But I rode his track work and told Patrick (Payne) he had recovered well and was in good shape.’’
The horse might have been fitter but so was Tahlia.
She has recently started getting some fitness and style advice from former hoop Vinnie Hall and she said it was having an immediate impact on her riding style.
Now she only needs a good long run without any injuries and the world may see what she truly has to offer.