Samara Johnson loved anything purple, so it’s fitting friend and fellow jockey Rachel Hunt will wear her favourite colour in a touching tribute on Saturday.
Racing NSW have cleared the way for Hunt to wear a purple helmet and silks with Johnson’s named stitched into the leg after the 25-year-old died in a single-vehicle crash on Sunday.
Hunt will be riding with a heavy heart aboard Canberra mare Highly Geared at Rosehill as the racing community rallies to pay respects to Johnson’s life and support trainer Garry Kirkup, who is still in hospital.
There will be a video tribute to Johnson at the course in what will be an emotional moment for her friends and family.
Kirkup was brought out of an induced coma on Tuesday night and will watch the race from Canberra Hospital, where he is battling organ complications but remains in a stable condition.
Canberra trainers have come together to train Kirkup’s horses, including eight-year-old Highly Geared, while he recovers.
Hunt lived next to Kirkup and Johnson when she was completing her jockey apprenticeship in Canberra and is still coming to grips a heartbreaking year.
Hunt moved to Sydney six months ago following the death of her best friend and Canberra track work rider Riharna Thomson – and said the racing community has pulled together during such a tough year.
“The best thing we can all do is be there for each other, it’s already a hard situation but made even harder with Riharna as well, she was one of my best friends,” Hunt said.
“When I first moved to Canberra I lived across the stables from Garry and Samara and they were the first people I got to know and were really good to me.
“Everyone knows each other in Canberra racing, we’re a close-knit family and I feel a huge amount of responsibility to do the best I can and do Garry and Samara proud on Saturday.
“I feel very honoured and blessed to ride for them and happy the horse still gets to run, hopefully I can do them proud because that’s what everyone is trying to do getting the horse ready.”
Kirkup and Johnson shared stables with Doug Gorrell and Johnson rode her last winner aboard Gorrell’s Liabilityadjuster at the Young Cup on October 7.
Gorrell has taken responsibility of Kirkup’s 12 horse this week said it had been a joy working with the pair every day and that he’d miss their morning banter.
“They have a great sense of humour and I used to piss myself laughing at the banter we’d have all morning over our wash bay walls,” Gorrell said.
“She was half his age but they were inseparable in work and play, just two peas in a pod who were madly in love.
“It’s just so sad and really not fair, she was too young and busy to not be with us anymore and I’m worried sick about Kirky, just a horrible thing to lose your partner.
“They’ve been so wonderful to me, they had 75 years of wonderful horse knowledge between them and they’ve helped me no end since I’ve got into the business.
“She was a great jockey and thinking this summer about having a crack at riding professionally, Kirky was convinced she’d make a good jockey and a lot of people thought the same, but unfortunately we’ll never know.”
Canberra jockey Kalina Bone echoed the sentiment ans said her best friend would have made a terrific jockey.
“Samara was a great rider and helped me a lot with my riding when I started doing track work in Canberra, she was amazing horseperson and just really talented,” Bone said.
“If she she could have got her weight down a bit she could have been a good professionally jockey because she rode plenty of winners at the picnics.
“Samara and I were both really close to Riharna and when that happened earlier in the year we were there for each other a lot, that was really hard to deal with and now this has happened.
“It’s such a big loss and is going to be so hard to deal with, she was my best friend and it’s just been such a tough year which has really rocked everyone.
“It’s such a small community and because we’re all so close everyone just came together straight away… it helps so much when you don’t have to have to go through it by yourself.
Gorrell said there had been “countless helpers” getting Highly Geared ready for Rosehill and it would be amazing to see the $34 shot pull off an upset.
“She’s an easy mare to train and keep fresh but it would be a fairytale if she could do something special in honour of Samara and give Kirky a kick along,” Gorrell said.
Highly Geared has won $311,420 since she was bought as an untrained four-year-old for just $12,000 in 2013 and Kirkup’s son Ben is the majority owner.
“Dad came good for about an hour on Wednesday and fortunately I filled him in on Highly Geared and he was happy with the jockey selection and happy we were racing,” Ben said.
“Rachel Hunt was in Canberra and has been riding really well Sydney, she knew Samara and we thought it would be nice to put a connection there with the jockey.
“Samara’s parents and brothers are going to come to the race and it’s such tragic circumstances but a win would certainly put a smile on some people’s faces in what has been a very terrible time.”