Ad Harry Coffey and Craig Williams come together to raise awareness and funds for The Good Friday Appeal during Oaks Day at Flemington. (Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

An appeal close to Coffey’s heart

8 February 2024 Written by VRC

Jockey Harry Coffey loves to ride horses and is looking forward to another big autumn in the saddle across the Flemington Racing Spectacular. Beyond the racetrack, Harry and his wife Tayla have settled into family life with new baby Thomas and is a Victoria Racing Club ambassador to support the Good Friday Appeal.

Harry Coffey grew up in a racing family and, despite being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at six weeks old, has carved out a successful career in the saddle. The Royal Children’s Hospital was pivotal in looking after his health, especially during his teen years.

“Although I had a life-threatening condition, I went to school, played football on a Saturday morning, and my parents encouraged me to have a go at things and not to worry if I wasn’t as good as someone else. It was taking part that mattered,” reflected Coffey. “I didn’t know any different, and my parents were amazing.”

Immersed in his horse trainer father’s (Austy Coffey) stables from an early age, he caught the racing bug early.

“When I was 14 or 15, I started working in my Dad’s stables part-time before school. I had a pony, and I’d go to the races with Dad on a weekend. I fell in love with the speed and competing,” the Group 1-winning jockey recalled. “I did a school-based apprenticeship and was at school two or three days and was apprenticed to Dad for the rest of the week. When I finished Year 12, I began riding full time.”

Due to the demands that competitive riding might impose on his health, however, his parents were worried that his body may not withstand the rigours of the job.

“My parents were a bit concerned, so they made an appointment at The Royal Children’s Hospital with my specialist, Dr John Massey, who’d looked after me since I was 10. He said being a jockey wasn’t the greatest lifestyle for someone with CF but he said, ‘If I said you couldn’t do it, it could break you and you wouldn’t want to get out of bed tomorrow. If you can’t follow your dreams, what’s the point of getting out of bed? If we manage it and you stay healthy, it’s possible.’”

This connection with The Royal Children’s Hospital continued to play a crucial role in ensuring his wellbeing through his teen years.

“I’d go to The Royal Children’s Hospital three times a year for a week of maintenance and monitoring to make sure my body was working at its best. That helped ensure I could ride and compete.

“That is why The Children’s is close to my heart. I spent a lot of time there, and it’s an amazing place. It also keeps things real, because no matter where you look, there are people facing tougher situations than yourself. I’m thankful for the care and treatment I received,” he said.

It’s for this reason that Coffey is extremely proud to be the VRC Good Friday Appeal ambassador, supporting a cause so close to his heart.

“The Good Friday Appeal is important not just for the funds raised but for spreading awareness about the fantastic facilities we have and how we can help even more people.”

Coffey is grateful that he is in good health now, and able to do what he loves. “For the past few years I’ve been on a drug that has done wonders – I have more energy. It tricks my body into thinking it has a gene that I’m actually missing, and as a result I don’t get as short of breath, I have better lung capacity and I remove mucus from my lungs more easily. I’m also less prone to infections now.”

When he is not working, Coffey loves nothing more than being at home on his farm in Swan Hill with his wife Tayla and their son.

“We have dogs and horses and Thomas, our first baby, arrived last May. It can be complicated for people with CF to have children so we feel very lucky. I don’t have a lot of time off so Tayla does an amazing job with him. Whenever I do have a day off, it is spent with him!”

For more than 92 years, the Good Friday Appeal has raised funds for The Royal Children’s Hospital so that it can continue to provide world-class care for children from Victoria and beyond. Flemington racegoers will be encouraged to contribute across the Flemington Racing Spectacular, with Good Friday Appeal volunteers out in force rattling tins and selling raffle tickets for a dedicated Race Day Raffle generously supported by the VRC’s partners TCL, Microflite and St Remio, while those purchasing tickets via Ticketmaster also have the opportunity to donate funds directly during their transaction. All proceeds raised will contribute to the Good Friday Appeal’s 2024 fundraising campaign.