It’s not uncommon for jockeys to turn to training once their riding careers are over.
It appears a normal transition and a natural pathway to remain in racing.
But Natalie Wood bucked the trend when she opted to take an alternative approach that is rarely seen in racing.
In a riding career that spanned almost two decades, Wood rode 63 winners from 1554 rides.
Her winning haul included 61 at provincial and country level and two in the city.
But by 2012 she was done and dusted and could see the writing on the wall. The physical and mental scars of racing had taken their toll.
Her retirement fast-tracked after copping serious injuries from another fall.
But if you can take the girl out of racing you can’t take racing out of the girl.
Wood’s passion for racing never dimmed and she was determined to remain in the industry.
That opportunity opened up at Geraldton when the club commenced their new season last October.
“I was at track work with a baby and it flipped over and landed on top of me,” Wood told TABradio’s The Sports Daily.
“My injury wasn’t diagnosed straight away, but it was discovered I had herniated a couple of disks in my neck.
“I always had a thing about what I was going to do when I couldn’t ride anymore, I knew I couldn’t do it forever.
“I’m also a mum and you have to seriously think this is not going to go on forever and what do you do at the end of it.
“I could have taken out a trainer’s license, but that wasn’t really me and due to my injuries I can’t ride anymore.”
The role of a steward can be challenging both internally within the industry and externally to the general racing public.
They wield authority over punters, jockeys, trainers, horses and owners to ensure the rules of racing are followed.
In a multi-billion industry their work is often subject to trenchant criticism under the glare of public scrutiny.
But Wood, who kept a clean sheet during her 18 years of riding, is relishing her new role and said it had given her a new found respect for stewards.
“I have noticed that there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes; other than you go to the races, you weigh out and jump on your horse,” Wood said.
“It was hard when I had the fall because every weekend I would be in the car driving thousands of kilometres to ride in races.
“So for that to end was pretty hard, but taking up this role I’m still amongst it and it’s an industry that I love.”
Brad Lewis, Chief Steward at Racing and Wagering Western Australia (RWWA), said Wood had made a seamless transition to her new role.
“Natalie has fitted into the role of club steward without difficulty,” Lewis said.
“She has taken to the responsibility and is displaying real passion for the job.”
RWWA: Julio Santarelli