Trailblazer back home for good
TURF racing is a tough, unforgiving sport, but it gets in the blood early and stays there.
Especially when many of your family are already in the business.
So it wasn't a hard choice for Springsure-born Glenda Bell to set her young eyes on a career as a jockey, though even she may have been surprised at the glittering racing career she would enjoy as both jockey and trainer, and enjoy a name synonymous with the "sport of kings” in Emerald and Rockhampton and various points north and south.
Following an early childhood spent in the Emerald district, Glenda moved to Rockhampton with her mum and attended Rockhampton High School.
"I was at Rocky High until I took up an apprentice jockey's position after Grade 10,” Glenda said.
"My mum's father was a jockey and my brother was a jockey before me, so he paved the way for me.”
The apprenticeship was a five-year study in hard work - studded with numerous broken bones - but was worth every day.
"There was no insurance back then - you just took time out to recover - that was part and parcel of the business,” Glenda said.
"Cleaning out the stalls, running the horses, it was fun, even though it was hard work.
"Today's apprentices don't have to do a thing.”
Glenda had her first winner at age 15-and-a-half - and there have been plenty more since then.
One of her proudest moments was when she was able to afford her first car at age 17, a pint-sized Mini Minor that she picked up in Gracemere.
"I came back to Emerald in it. It was second-hand, but it was new to me,” she recalled.
Female jockeys were a rarity back then but female trainers were practically non-existent.
But Glenda would prove to be a trail-blazer through her career, and the only hurdle to training for her was getting the right licence.
"I moved into training when we were allowed dual licences, so with my sister, when we were finally allowed, I applied straight away.
"There were hardly any female trainers back then.”
The racing industry around Emerald was pretty vibrant back then, but not so any more.
"Emerald raced every fortnight back then,” Glenda said.
"There would be 60 horses every meet. Now it's more like 14.
"I had a lot of winners, I can't remember the first one.
"But the big moment for me was riding the Emerald Cup when I was five months pregnant with my son Guy.
"Someone mentioned later that 'I looked a bit podgy' during the race.
"After that, I gave it away for a while to give birth to him, but went back.
"My experience made a few changes to the rules - that seemed to happen a lot with me - I believe the rule now is you can only ride up to four months pregnant.”
In 2014, tragedy struck when Glenda's partner, soulmate, father to Guy and fellow trainer, Tony Button, passed away aged only 62.
Additionally, Glenda's Rockhampton-based mum's health was failing, so she decided to up-sticks and relocate to the city where she went on to further her list of training successes at the highest levels.
It also coincided with her redundancy from her "day job” at Gregory Mine.
"Mum was in Gracemere Gardens and was looking like she might be on her last legs,” Glenda said.
"But she's still going strong - she'll be 98 in November. She's about 20 kilos but she's fine.”
Glenda did well in the city, but she pined for the country life again.
"I'd done well in Rocky, but the place is too busy, and I was living on a main road.
"The training facilities were great but I can train (horses) here in Emerald.”
And so in February of this year, Glenda returned to her spiritual home, not that she plans to slow down at all.
And with eight horses to run - plus another mining job - the pace of life doesn't seem to be slowing.
"I'm working at Minerva Mine now. But I've built two lots of stables here,” she said.
"I had a bit of a homecoming, I arrived back on February 20. I won't be going anywhere.
"I love Emerald. I have good friends here. It's a more relaxed place to be.”
Now Glenda is also a grandmother to Jett, 5, Milly, 7, and Aliyah, three months.
Eight horses is just about enough for Glenda and the set-up she has built.
"Some will come and go. And I still have the same team.
"Mick Francis and Raymond Williams have been in the business since they were 15 - they're stickers.”
Glenda is saddened by the decline in country racing - both in meetings and attendances - that has occurred across the years.
"The number of race meetings has changed.
"Prize money has not kept up with what it costs to train and run horses,” she said.
"There's better money in NSW.
"Queensland racing is in a bit of trouble, I think, it's not going as well as NSW.
"It would not stack up if you were paid by the hour.”
With the industry so much more centralised in metropolitan areas now, Glenda said she "didn't think they need the country races now”.
"Unless the country can get TABs, it's going to be bad.”
But the industry has been "very good to her”.
"It has been hard work. I've never claimed it as a 'job' [but] we've got to try and get something else at the local track.
" I am going to get onto Emerald Jockey Club, I'm keen to promote it. We need to do something.”
Glenda said she would still like to take horses on the Birdsville Circuit, "also up for the Darwin Cup”.
It's all about finding the time.
"Working out in the mines, it's 17-18-hour days with the mine and the horses.
"But I'm trying to change things. Six days a month at the mines would be great.
"So it's mine work there for the moment. And cost of grandkids is not cheap,” she quipped.
Minerva's not a big mine but jockey-sized Glenda drives "monstrous” trucks.
"But everything's big around you [out there].”