Race of his life

17 May 2022 Written by Patrick Bartley

It is easy to take for granted the risks jockeys take every time they race. Sadly, some suffer career-ending injuries. Financial and other support becomes vital, and the National Jockeys’ Trust is dedicated to raising funds for injured and ill jockeys and their families, providing stability in times of crisis.

In early 2005, Ray Silburn’s life changed forever after the running of the Black Opal Carnival at Thoroughbred Park, Canberra.

The likeable jockey who had notched a thousand winners before that fateful day lay on the racecourse main track fighting for his life. 

Silburn was riding Caza Ladron when he fell, the horse crashing on top of him. Doctors were not optimistic that Silburn would live through the day after they discovered the gravity of his injuries.

However, even with this diagnosis, Silburn was in for the fight – and it was some fight.

“They really didn’t give me much of a chance, but I hung in there and eventually things turned around,” Silburn said.

The devastating fall left him a quadraplegic, confined to life in a wheelchair.

His injuries left him with little income, no qualifications and few places to turn to for help.

“But all of these years, the National Jockeys Trust has been fantastic. They are always there when I need something and that’s a great weight off your shoulders knowing that they are with you,” Silburn said.

Some of the help he received from the Australian Jockeys Association through the National Jockeys Trust included payment for home modifications, enabling him more ease to get around his own home.

Silburn is just one of a number of jockeys that the National Jockeys Trust supports and looks after in these times of terrible injuries. He is also grateful to his family for their love and support.

“You know, it’s family that gets you through. They were by my side, and knowing they were in my corner was such a relief when my health looked so bad,” he said.

Born in the Blue Mountains and apprenticed to the Clarry Conners stable at Rosehill, Silburn was known for being a lightweight, the young jockey weighing in at barely 30 kilos when he began his apprenticeship. 

He managed to carve out an extremely strong career and was an excellent judge of pace. He was also eager and willing, travelling to wherever a good ride would come up.

One of the best riders in the Canberra-New South Wales area of his era, his natural riding weight also proved advantageous when people were looking for jockeys.

Now 53, Silburn misses life in the saddle, but has a positive attitude about his situation.

“I often think about the winners I rode, but I work hard to do other things, like for instance my carer took me to see the movies recently and I spend a lot of time on my laptop. I just have to get on with life,” he said.

Silburn, who’s now a grandfather, did have many low moments in his rehabilitation, but one moment stays with him – when his then three-year-old son Joel jumped onto his lap and pulled his arms around him to keep him secure, he realised that life was very much worth living.

The National Jockeys Trust (NJT) was established in 2004 by the AJA, providing appropriate support, financial or otherwise to those jockeys past or present.  

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Image credit: Mark Evans/News Limited