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UNIVERSITY took a back seat!

The onset of COVID-19 influenced OLIVIA CHAMBERS to head in another direction – and she is mighty glad she did.

What a season it has already been for the Exeter native and 20-year-old Kembla Grange apprentice, who is about to turn 21 and began riding in races only 12 months ago, though she didn’t lack experience as a horsewoman.

Chambers’ victory for Canberra trainer Keith Dryden on Burgundy Girl at Queanbeyan last Sunday was her 31st in 2022-23 (and 33rd overall). In terms of female apprentices, only the more experienced Molly Bourke (52 wins) and Anna Roper (41) are ahead of her this season.

Whilst she had always been around horses and was a keen show jumper (pictured on Picobella in a Tamworth Winter Festival), Chambers had finished school at Bowral and at the invitation of her farrier, racehorse trainer Anthony Warren, began working for him during her gap year.

Riding in races, though, definitely was not on her agenda.

“I had planned to go to Sydney University to undertake a degree in Animal Bioscience research,” she said.

“But when COVID started, I didn’t like the idea of teaching myself online.

“So, I deferred it for a year, and then another year.”

Warren, aware from Chambers’ show jumping background that she was skilled in the saddle, eventually got her riding work – and one thing led to another.

“Because I had put University on the backburner, I moved to Kembla Grange last May to join the late Gwenda Markwell on loan for three months,” she explained.

“Sadly, Gwenda was very ill (and passed away in late October), and fellow trainers Rob and Luke Price kindly offered to take me on.

“Luke is based at their Kembla stable, and I certainly didn’t expect when I started there in September that I would have as much success as I have.”

“The Prices are great to work for, and I’m really enjoying my time there.”

Coincidentally, it was exactly 12 months ago (Tuesday, May 17) that Chambers made her debut for Markwell on $26 outsider Willy Wilson in a Class 1 Handicap (1200m) at a Kembla Grange meeting held at Goulburn on a heavy track.

It was her only ride for the day – and one she won’t easily forget.

“Willy Wilson ran last of seven runners, and pretty much everything went wrong,” Chambers said.

“He wasn’t a conventional horse to ride, and began awkwardly, wanted to over race and then started to hang in from the 600m.”

The stewards’ report was lengthy in detail, but they weren’t overly critical of Chambers, given it was her first ride coupled with the fact that Willy Wilson’s previous racing manners were well known to them.

The young jockey quickly put that behind her and not many rides later, broke through on Gorush Lightning ($8) in a Benchmark 58 Handicap (1300m) at Moruya on June 21 for local trainer Michael Gatty; her 4kg claim lessening the topweight’s burden to 60kg.

She has since won another two races on the eight-year-old gelding at his home track; the latest on March 5 when a 3kg claim again reduced his weight to 60kg, and he saluted at $14.

Chambers clinched her first treble at the Sapphire Coast on April 24, winning twice for Rob and Luke Price on Celestial Doll and Noble Serenade, and the other on Eberlee for fellow Kembla trainer Theresa Bateup, who has also been a good supporter.

More recently, she made racegoers sit up and take further notice with a double at the Wagga Cup meeting on May 5; one of her duo being the Queen of the South (1400m) for Keith Dryden on $13 chance In De Summertime (pictured).

Chambers’ country allowance has now been reduced to 2kg, but can still claim 3kg at Provincial meetings.

And she is no rush at all to graduate to metropolitan racing.

“My immediate goal is to outride my country claim, and I’ve still got a way to go there to ride 80 winners,” she said.

“Luke (Price) rode successfully, and I will be guided by him as to when I’m ready to go to town.”

An only child, Chambers’ parents come to watch her ride in races whenever possible, and her Mum helps out driving her to meetings also when she can.

Chambers is back in action at Canberra on Friday and Nowra on Sunday, hoping to edge her way closer to a half century of wins before the season ends on July 31.

As for attempting to gain that University degree, it might be a long way off given the outstanding manner she has progressed this season.

“It’s always there as a back-up if I decide I want to do it later on, and definitely intend to get back to show jumping on a more regular basis, but not before my apprenticeship is completed in three years’ time,” she concluded.

HOOFNOTE: Luke Price says Chambers has been a wonderful addition to their stable, and was high in his praise of her.

“Olivia works hard, is very keen and has race smarts,” Price said.

“She has come a long way in a short time, and is doing a terrific job. We’re very proud of her.”

*Words John Curtis*

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