The count towards Jodi Quinlan’s mighty milestone – 2000 winning drives – initiated more than two decades ago with a swoop down the straight on the first day of winter.
It was June 1, 1992, when trainer Gary Quinlan’s six-year-old gelding by Windshield Wiper led a concession driver on to Cranbourne’s course to tackle the Sky Channel Stakes.
Zephyr Lad had placed only once in his last eight starts and was a 20/1 pop, having drawn the outside of the front row, with the 2/1 favourite Five Ply, trained and driven by trots legend Ted Demmler, among those on his inside.
For some it was just another manic Monday, for Zephyr Lad’s 17-year-old reinswoman it was a nerve-racking opportunity.
“I used to get terribly nervous when I first started,” Jodi Quinlan said. “The first winner was very nerve-racking. I think I was sitting in the one-one and just happened to get out around the turn at Cranbourne and sprint home. It was a really close finish.”
A short-half-head separated Zephyr Lad from Lord Of Rohan, but it was enough for Quinlan to break her duck in just her fifth start.
“I was that nervous, it was all a bit overwhelming at the time.”
It was the only victory Zephyr Lad would produce in his last 23 starts, despite also passing through the hands of renowned drivers Chris Alford, Gavin Lang, Brian Gath, Ross Sugars and Matthew Harding.
Also notably, Zephyr Lad was not only trained by Quinlan’s uncle Gary but part-owned by her grandfather Alby, an insight into the outstanding family support that gave her an initial leg up.
“Mum and dad had gallopers and I lost my father just before I turned 15 and went into trotters because that was what was available to me,” Quinlan said.
“My uncle Geoff Walker took me under his wing early on and carted me all over the country side to drive Highland Bomber.
“Geoff was the one who was prepared to put me on early doors. He was a very good horseman, really good at breaking them in. He was the one who stuck up for me early on.”
And Quinlan is also quick to credit uncle Gary, who gave her opportunities on key drives, exposure that would fast-track her career. That included Our Millers Road, who Quinlan said “really ran for me”.
“(Our Millers Road) was the first one who got me out there at the Valley. My two uncles and mum have been the backbone of where I got too today,” she said.
“I obtained a lot of outside drives from (Our Millers Road) and that helped me outdrive my claim. As much as Geoff started me off and got me going, my time as the stable driver for Gary for many years gave me that next step and led to me moving to Melton and starting out on my own.”
Quinlan’s opportunities enjoyed a steady incline, peaking in 2002-03 when she would drive 990 starters for 162 winners and 258 placegetters. Her greatest win would come in the following November when she piloted Sokyola to the $550,000 SEW-Eurodrive Miracle Mile for trainer Lance Justice.
“I look at it as a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Quinlan said. “(Owner) Colin Croft was the reason I drove Sokyola, he promised one day that he would put me on a good horse and it just happened to be Sokyola. You have to pinch yourself even now to think that I’ve won a Miracle Mile.”
They are now milestones amid a milestone, having carried Quinlan to 2000 wins last Wednesday when steering her three-year-old colt, Somebeachshadow, to victory by a head at Kilmore. It was a formidable achievement some 25 seasons in the making.
“Im proud of the achievement that I’ve been able to do that,” Quinlan said. “I’m very lucky to have had so much support. I’m the one who gets all the accolades and the one who drives them, but it has taken a lot of dirt and tears to get to this stage and you need the support of a lot of people in the industry.”