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What a courageous, inspirational, astonishing, brave jockey....and immensely talented

Ric Chapman in Interviews 28 Jul 2016
  • Injuries have not diminished the fire inside Samantha Polo
Samantha Polo showing her strength. She has healed. She is back....and she wants rides.

The days following Michelle Payne's epic, historic, life-altering Melbourne Cup ride, haven't been filled with wine and roses for some other female riders.

In fact, it's been down-right hellish.

NATALIE DYE for instance, less than an hour after Payne's Cup heroic's, crashed through the running rail at Nowra with such force she was impaled on it.

Blood streamed, gushed even, from multiple head wounds, her jaw was smashed,  and her injuries were so severe she was inches and moments away from death.

Not good when you're a mum of three.

To this day she carries scars - both physical and emotional - that are rather obvious, and is yet to ride in a race since.

KATHY O'HARA, perhaps the highest profiled female rider in NSW, looked diminished and battered as she lay on the point of the home turn after Single Gaze crashed in the ATC OAKS. 

She was smahed about and forced out of the saddle for a couple of months. Then there was SAMANTHA CLENTON, the leading apprentice in all of NSW. She was so compromised by her fall of three months back, the rehab has been long suffering, hard and constant.

She is yet to ride in a race either since her accident.

And there have been others.

ROSE PEARSON was hospitalised when he mount stumbled at track work and threw her to the ground badly injuring her face, while poor CARLY FRATER was hospitalised for two months in February of this year and had major surgery.

Recently, young JESSICA BROOKES fell at trackwork last month and broke her sternum.

But there is hope to this tale of woes. Girls are tough, they handle pain better than men, and their resolve to come back is astonishing.

Such is the case with SAMANTHA POLO.

 She claims 2kg in the bush and 3kg in town and at the provincials. But, 11 months ago she was flying riding winner after winner up around the northern rivers area.
 She was even being wooed to Queensland and was riding provincial races up there too.
 Then just like that it was all over.
 She was on this $31 chance in a maiden and it was travelling sweetly in behind the pace, and, well too sweetly. It went forward without urgings, clipped the heels of the one in front and down it went.
 Polo was catapulted, actually the official term was, speared head first into the turf. 
 As she lay motionless and unconscious no-one in those first moments of shock and fear, knew what to expect. But her body took stock, however, and it knocked her out to avoid the pain. Her injuries were horrific.
 This fall occurred at Armidale racetrack on 29 September last year. Just two rides earlier she had celebrated and whooped it up after landing the Bowraville Cup, a $26,000 race.
 But at home, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney watching the Armidale races with great pride on TV was her mum. She watches all of Sam's rides. She doesn't want her daughter being a jockey but she does want what makes her girl happy.
 On this day...she wasn't.
 After the initial shock, she sat grimly on the lounge just staring in mini disbelief at what she had just seen. Her baby was on the track, broken. 
The eastern suburbs-based mother was mortified. It was a scene played out by many parents, cartainly of the above girls mentioned, many times in the past, and it sickens parents to the core. 
In legends, tales that get told through the generations, Polo's fall in full view of her mum's sight, would have been akin to the knight felled by the act no one dared to make. Or better, the arrow slung at the giant, from a place unseen. 

But here, in suburbia, mum was stilled by the fall, and the fact the race charged on, TV camera in tow, not allowing her to see anymore of her daughter's fate, was spine-chilling. The blood drained from her face so she phoned the track.

Sam, she was told, had been rushed to hospital

Those in attendance could see her injuries.

Her mum, a single mum of four kids, flew immediately to her daughter's side.

As she flew, she was remembering all the wonderful things about Sam. Like the fact, that before becoming a jockey, Samantha Polo was a vet's nurse.

Sam, at 25, is a late one to the riding ranks, but that early time of study allowed her to pursue animal husbandry and excel at it.

Her mother wanted her to stay doing that. But after Samantha visited a friend's pony and saw the beauty of riding, and then that day felt the breeze run through her hair, riding horses took over as what she wanted and needed in her life.

"I was hooked the moment I saw that pony," she recalls.

So she learned how to ride and as luck would have it, she learned how to do it very well.

"Toward the end of 2015 I was rolling along really well. The winners were coming and I was loving being a jockey," she said.

Back then she was indentured to leading bush trainer Stephen Lee at Ballina. And she was in great demand.

She could ride at 50kg but she was stronger than most and she was perfectly balanced.

After a while with Lee, to increase her opportunities to get more and better rides, she transferred her apprenticeship to Scott Henley at Grafton, and it worked.

Offers came flooding in.

The day the fall occurred, the 2015/16 season was just seven weeks old. Sam had already ridden 9 winners at a strike rate of 14%.

That is superb.

Most apprentices in NSW today did not even ride nine winners all year! Polo did it in just seven weeks. 

But then the fall, arghh the fall.

It will either make or break her now, but given her drive and her genetic makeup, have a guess which one it will be?

"I moved back home to be with mum and to rehab," she said. "And it took a long time.

"I dislocated my collarbone. And it surprisingly took the longest time to heal. For six months I just couldn't raise my arm or get any strength into it.

"I had multiple fractures of my face and my eye sockets were broken.

"They transported me straight after the fall to Prince Of Wales Hospital in Sydney and I spent nearly three weeks there.

"Then I went home and could not leave the house for over two months. It was frustrating and annoying."

The doctors diagnosed severe swelling on her brain. A haematoma formed around her brain and it caused her to suffer vertigo every time she stood up.

For weeks she was helped to the kitchen table for dinner by her siblings.

She was helped around the home just to undertake basic mundane things you and I take for granted.

The recovery was agonisingly slow and painful. 

In the days and months after Sam's fall, she floated along on the back of the fine chemicals that inhibited her pain. 

When their powers dimmed, you can almost imagine her sinking, wincing, fighting to get better. 

She couldn’t stand upright for months without her body, controlled by the fragile workings of her wounded brain, wanting her to fall over.

She was gnarled, scarred, battered....but not broken. 

Over time, as she regained her senses one by one, she tried to create a whole new life for herself - in Sydney.

Her mother and siblings were a ubiquitous presence, as were the wobbly days. 

But she persisted through the mist of pain and time.

Eventually she was whole enough to get on board again, and so began the reteaching of her balance. She had put on weight and her strength was still there, but the essential 1%ers that needed honing, required work.

So she worked at it daily, eventually becomg strong, flexible, and well enough to ride work.

She asked her master if she could remain in Sydney near her mum, and he said yes.

Then after months of rehab, just a few weeks back she was granted permission to work on loan with Randwick based trainer John Thompson, he of FIRST SEAL fame.

And now, finally, nearly a complete calendar year since the fall, she had her first ride back, this week at Goulburn...for Thompson.

Samantha Polo is the epitome of determined females in racing. 

Strong, smart, balanced, determined, engaging, refreshing....and inspirational.

All attributes that Michelle Payne shares.

"I have to establish myself now. No-one knows I'm based in Sydney these days but I can ride with a 2kg claim in the bush still and I have a car.

"So I will travel anywhere for a ride in a race." know what, I'm so impressed by her, I'm going to give her a ride on my filly when next she starts....(and who knows it may even be in one of them there new $60,000 Highway races).

Wouldn't that just be something! Irrespective, Samantha Polo - take a bow.

You are a warrior woman.

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What a courageous, inspirational, astonishing, brave jockey....and immensely talented

Ric Chapman caught up with wounded apprentice Sam Polo....and has dubbed her a warrior woman. She suffered horrific injuries and couldn't even stand up for over three months. Now she's back looking for winners.

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