Alannah Fancourt, better known as Lani, is a Toowoomba-based apprentice jockey whose career is racing almost faster than the mounts she rides to victory.

At just 20 years old, Lani’s race statistics are staggering. She rode her first race in March 2012.  Three months later she was ranked by Racenet as the number one jockey in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong based on her winning strike rate and is now a regular in their “hot jockeys” rankings. One of her career highlights to date was winning the highly coveted $50,000 South Grafton Cup in July with four-year old gelding, Carry Me Bluey. At the time of interview, she had clocked up a staggering 30 wins in a career that has only spanned six months. She beams when asked what it is like to ride in a race and proudly says, “It’s like watching yourself in a dream.”

Despite making her career in a challenging and tough industry, what’s so refreshing about Lani is her truly delightful personality and her genuine rapport with the horses. She certainly speaks the language of horse racing. Lani’s unique “hands and heels” approach to riding, as opposed to being whip-happy, is believed to be part of her winning formula. She works under the careful watch and guidance of trainer Norm Hilton.  A former rodeo champion turned trainer, Norm plays his cards very close to his chest but he certainly seems to know a winner when he sees one.

Lani’s almost fairytale-like story with horses began whilst growing up in Tara west of Dalby with a stockhorse called Frosty then on a horse called Prince, doing pony club and gymkhanas. Forced to finish school halfway through Year 11 and having moved to Brisbane, Lani was desperate to find a career working with animals. In late 2009, she dragged her apprehensive mum, Michelle, to Racing Queensland to enquire about becoming a jockey … a move that would understandably strike fear into any mother’s heart.

Lani then sent application letters to 45 racehorse trainers. She was answered by Brisbane trainer Pat Duff and started as a stable hand for 14 months. The opportunity of training as an apprentice then presented itself in Toowoomba in the Hilton Thoroughbred stable where she moved in April 2011.

At present, Lani kicks off her day at 3am riding trackwork for Donald (Ducky) Baker. She then arrives at Norm’s barn by 4am. A normal morning of trackwork would see her ride up to 18 horses. From around 9am, she either rests or trains on the mechanical horse or does other Racing Queensland designated apprentice training. She heads back to the stables around 2pm to tend to the horses for the evening, taking each one out for a walk or swim, cleaning stables and then rugging and feeding. Lani’s next big milestone is to ride at metropolitan race meets and at the rate this jockey clocks up wins, that will almost certainly be forthcoming over Summer.

Words by Andra Bite  |  Images by Michael McInally and Ross Stevenson