Lisa Allpress is one of the best jockeys around. Not one of the best female jockeys, but one of the best jockeys, full stop.
The 44-year old prefers the latter description and is confident the racing industry in New Zealand has progressed to the point where the distinction is no longer necessary.
This wasn’t always the case. Historically, there was resistance, but fortunately racing is one of the few sporting codes shining the light on women, for other codes to aspire to.
Allpress’s record speaks for itself. It’s a record that will cement her legacy in racing circles, long after her retirement. She has won three jockey premierships, celebrated over 1500 wins in New Zealand, and raced in nine countries over her 24-year career.
She’s currently third on the New Zealand premiership ladder, with 30 wins so far this season – behind another great Kiwi female jockey, Sam Collett, and Japanese apprentice Kozzi Asano. The first woman to ride 1000 winners on New Zealand soil, Allpress notched up her 1500th win at Otaki in July.
She won her third premiership this winter, a stunning comeback from a jump-out fall in 2017 which left her with shoulder injuries that threatened to end her career.
It raises the question: how does an athlete stay on top of their game for over two decades?
Allpress credits her longevity and successes to the strong support system she has around her – starting with her parents, Neil Mumby and Trish Beattie, and then going onto her husband, Karl, and her mentor, master trainer Kevin Gray.
“Growing up Mum and Dad were really supportive. The both helped out at pony club and used to drive me around every weekends to shows, and if I needed help with anything Dad would jump in,” says Allpress.
She competed all over the country with her ponies, and lists her childhood heroes as Kiwi show jumping legends Sir Mark Todd, Harvey Wilson and Catriona Williams.
“Originally my parents didn’t want me to be a jockey,” she reveals.
“My dad was a jockey and there weren’t any females when he was riding. But I’ve always had a love for horses since riding ponies as a child and they could see that, so they backed me and my passion.”
Allpress met husband Karl, a horse trainer, a year after she finished her apprenticeship. “He’s heavily involved in the racing industry too, so he knows the lifestyle required to compete at an elite level,” she says.
If he needs to tend to their 215ha beef farm near Whanganui, and misses Allpress’s races, he’ll listen on the radio and offer advice on her performances when she returns home.
Everyone supporting and contributing to Allpress’s career understands the level of constant dedication and discipline needed to remain on top.
Allpress says a solid foundation was set by her family, and the building blocks and polish were added when her parents sent her to the Grays in Patea for her apprenticeship when she was 20.
“I was very lucky to be mentored by Mr Gray – I still call him that to this day too. I think he’s had five of us go on to win over 1000 races which has to be a record,” she says.
What the Grays have in spades is a genuine interest in a rider’s growth and wellbeing.
“They definitely helped mould me into a good rider with a good work ethic and taught us skills like being able to communicate with trainers and owners effectively,” Allpress says.
“It’s not until I left after the four-year apprenticeship that I fully appreciated and realised the amount of work Mr and Mrs Gray did for all of us. They took care of everything so we could concentrate on being the best version of ourselves.”
On reflection all the little things add up. The analysis sessions with Kevin Gray after every race day; the meals his wife, Kathleen, cooked (even though there was a chef) and the clear boundaries set around what was acceptable behaviour.
She’s taken those skills and meticulously applied them to her craft in both New Zealand and overseas.
Allpress says the favourite part of her riding career was racing in Singapore, because Karl and their two boys, Josh and Angus, travelled with her.
“Singapore is an amazing place to ride. You either have to win the premiership or be ranked in the top three in your country to get an opportunity to ride there. So it was a special time for our family,” says Allpress, who was the only female rider in Singapore when she went there in 2013.
What was meant to be a three-month contract, turned into a one-and-a-half year experience, as Allpress impressed with her quality riding and received two contract extensions.
Winning Group 1 races is obviously another highlight as that’s what all riders strive for. But finding and developing young horses into winners is just as rewarding for Allpress.
“A couple of years ago  I won the New Zealand Cup on a horse called Jimmy Mac. I spotted Jimmy at the trials one day and knew there was something special, so I approached the trainer and everything started from there,” she says.
That feeling comes with experience. She’s just taken on the pre-training of Ladies First, who won the Auckland Cup in 2018 and was headed for the Melbourne Cup, but was injured. “It’s just another thing to fill in my days,” she laughs.
Drawing closer to the end of her career, Allpress’ advice to the next generation of riders is to appreciate the good days, as they are few and far between, and get used to combating disappointment.
“It definitely takes time to understand that and, to be honest, I feel like I’m still learning how to deal with it. It doesn’t get any easier trying to keep positive for yourself, the trainers and owners when things don’t go your way,” she says.
“You need to be prepared to put in the work. You have to be willing to put in the hard yards because you only get what you put in – on the track and in life.”
Away from the track, her highlight has been raising a family. She loves spending time with her boys and watching them develop; Josh is now 15 and Angus, 12. It’s something she’s looking forward to doing more of in the near future.
“I know I’m definitely in the twilight of my career. Eventually my Saturdays will consist of attending the boys’ sport games instead of my own races, and getting involved in their activities more, which I’m excited about.”
Although racing has provided Allpress with a job she loves, her boys have chosen to play other sports socially, like rugby and cricket.
“It kind of makes me crazy because they can both ride and look lovely on a horse,” she says. “But they don’t have the passion that I have and I know you have to have, if you want to have a career in racing.
“And that’s ok because they have their own paths and journeys to explore, and I’ll be there to support whatever they choose. That’s the most important part and I know that because that’s what my parents did for me.”
Whatever Allpress chooses to do next, the motivated mum will approach it in the same way she has her racing career – with discipline, preparation and purpose.