Riding high: Karen Koolman on The Autumn Sun or “Jeff” as she calls him. (Image: Bronwen Healy)

‘It’s a dream’: The woman who rides both Winx and The Autumn Sun

March 18 2019

Karen Koolman has something that Hugh Bowman and Kerrin McEvoy would love to have: a permanent seat on Winx and The Autumn Sun.

While Bowman and McEvoy experience the glory of race day on the superstars, they have to watch each other on Winx and The Autumn Sun respectively.

Even at the track of a morning, trainer Chris Waller has separate regular riders so it’s only Koolman who has the pleasure of partnering the two champions regularly by riding the star pair for weeks at a time in pre-training at Hermitage Park.

“(They’re) the two best horses I have been on. It is just a dream when I get on them, you can’t wipe the smile off my face,” Koolman said. “To be entrusted by Chris Waller to ride these horses is an honour. You can’t compare them.

“When you are on them you are holding on that bit tighter and you can’t help but think ‘it doesn’t get any better than this’.”

Winx, who lines up in the George Ryder Stakes on Saturday,  needs no introduction. She has won 31 races on end, 23 group 1s, setting records for the past four years. But Koolman is a late comer to her story.

“I first rode Winx when she had already won two Cox Plates, so everyone knew how good she was,” she said.

“She has otherworldly quality about her. She is that good and she knows it.”

Koolman’s passion for horses started as a teenager in Ireland, where she rode out for a point to point stable and worked for two-time Melbourne Cup winner Dermot Weld before coming to Australia and working for Bart Cummings.

Australia became home when she married Oliver Koolman, who manages the racing interests for Hermitage, which part owns The Autumn Sun.

While Winx is extraordinary, there is something extra special to Koolman about The Autumn Sun, a winner of seven of his eight starts, because she has been with him from the start.

“He’s Jeff to me,” she said. “I have ridden him since he was a two-year-old.  He was just a raw bouncy bundle of energy then. He used to like to get up on two legs.

“You don’t bounce that well when you get to my age but I said to Ollie ‘don’t take me off him’. He wasn’t mean, he was just full of energy and you could feel he was special.

“It is a horse like Jeff that makes me love riding because there are challenges. But you can see him learning and improving.

“He bounces likes a gazelle in his action and is getting better with every gallop and every race.”

For the first time at Rosehill on Saturday, Winx and The Autumn Sun will appear on the same race day and Koolman will watch her boy and girl closely.

“You get nervous watching one you have ridden at Kembla in a maiden but these two have done so much more,” Koolman said. “Everyone know thems and we just want them to keep on winning.”

– Chris Roots, Sydney Morning Herald