When trailblazing jockey Michele Payne won the 2015 Melbourne Cup, Mikayla Weir had only just started on her unlikely journey from rodeos to the racetrack, via a stop at a small cafe in Shellharbour.
In August of that year she had ridden in her first race at Tamworth and a month later won for the first time, but less than two years earlier she was a bored barista cracking coffees just south of Wollongong.
The nine-to-five cafe grind and earning a wage wasn't so bad - it was a means to an end. But Weir lived for the weekends - and horses - and would travel thousands of kilometres to compete at rodeos, barrel racing in dusty locales.
She loved horses, but racing?
"Some friends of mine tried to teach me to ride racehorses at 16, and I didn't want a bar of it," Weir laughs as she chats mid-meeting at Newcastle Racecourse.
"I just didn't like the feeling."
The quarter horses that Weir had mastered riding at those rough-and-tumble rodeos are like four-legged rally cars - high-performance, agile and responsive, quick to corner and able to stop on a dime - but thoroughbreds are the top fuel dragsters of the equine world.
They have two gears, stop and flat-out, and little in-between. What a jockey sits on - or, more accurately, perches above - is so lightweight it looks like a novelty saddle, not a real one.
It is a case of hang on, press go with a squeeze of your legs, then find a way to stay out of trouble among other competitors doing the same, all at around 70kmh. Wind down the window in your car doing that speed and imagine what it would be like to be perched on the roof and you get the idea.
To have a job to ride and be paid to be around horses is a dream come true. To train horses and be part of riding them as well would be even better.Mikayla Weir
So how did that bored barista come around to the sport and quickly become one of the most promising young talents on the country racing circuit?
A love of horses, pure and simple, got Weir away from the coffee machine and into the Kembla Grange stables of Kerry Parker. There she mucked-out boxes for two years but one day boredom again got the better of her and Weir wanted back on board a thoroughbred. Just one more try.
"Right away, as soon as I put her on one, I knew she was a natural," Parker says.
"First of all she has a great attitude, but it was just the way she sat on the horse, you can tell with some jockeys, they just get it right away. Mikayla is a genuine horsewoman."
Within days Weir had progressed from gentle trot-and-canter warm-ups to full stretch gallops.
"That is when I knew I wanted to race," she says.
One problem; Weir's boyfriend Jock Bone-Langdon was worried about his partner's safety. Now, that would seem a reasonable concern - race riding is dangerous - but Weir felt put out given Bone-Langdon was then making a living on the rodeo circuit.
As well as being a former national steer wrestling champion, Jock Bone-Langdon (with a name like that how could he not be a cowboy?) is a "protection athlete" whose job it is to put themselves in harm's way to protect fallen bull riders.
It might seem like daring a bull to charge you is more dangerous than race riding, and rodeo riders definitely fall more often, but in racing they fall harder. On the day we catch up with Weir, star apprentice Tom Sherry is rushed to hospital after he was speered head first into the turf, rolling in time to avoid catastrophe, but suffering a broken collarbone that required surgery.
"Jock didn't like the idea of it at all and we actually split up over it for a little while," Weir says.
Bone-Langdon went to America for a year, winning another prestigious steer wrestling title, and Weir went to the country, apprenticed to Todd Howlett at Muswellbrook.
To help apprentices gain a foothold at the start of their careers they are given an allowance - their horses are given less weight to carry in handicap races - and Weir made good use of her "claim."
Weir rode more than 250 wins as an apprentice, and even won with her very first ride at a Sydney track in 2017, but since graduating in February she is now riding on equal terms with senior jockeys.
That means re-living her rodeo days: long car rides chasing wins all over the state.
In the three days before we caught up with Weir she rode at Gosford on a Saturday; made the six-hour round-trip from her Jerrys Plains property to win the Wellington Town Plate; then headed nearly six hours north for another winner at Grafton.
Two thousand-plus kilometres and 20-something hours driving solo in three days, all for two wins.
Racing is one of the only professional sports in the world in which women compete against men on equal terms, and while Weir commands top rides at country tracks like Coonamble, Moree and Tamworth, at Broadmeadow - even at a midweek meeting like this - she is mixing it with some of the best in the world.
Winx's rider Hugh Bowman is here, as is star jockey Tommy Berry, who three days earlier won the Golden Sipper and has won the biggest races in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.
And then there's the jockey with the most wins in Australian racing history, Hunter racing legend Robert Thompson. He has won more than 4300 races, and counting.
The strong competition means Weir has just two rides - both outsiders who miss top three finishes - and she spends much of the day in the sparsely populated women's jockey room.
Despite having to step up a level to compete against the likes of Bowman, Berry and Thompson on equal terms, Weir has no plans of letting up now.
She has come too far to quit and her success has given her the chance, at 27, to purchase a 100-acre property on the Hunter River.
With every win she ticks off another upgrade for the property, where she hopes one day to emulate Payne and become a "dual licence" jockey and trainer.
"I keep a list of things I want on the notes in my phone, that keeps me going," she says.
And if ever Weir needs another motivation she can look back on those mundane mornings pouring coffee and remember cafe life isn't for her.
She doesn't have to live for the weekend anymore.
"I can go to work every day and enjoy what I am doing," she says.
"I have had jobs where I haven't enjoyed it, where you wake up in the morning and do not want to go. It is just painful and it doesn't matter how much money it was for.
"But when you enjoy something as much as this, it isn't an effort.
"I just learned to appreciate and love the animal. To have a job to ride and be paid to be around horses is a dream come true.
"To train horses and be part of riding them as well would be even better."
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