By: Hayley Morrison
When horses are your passion there tends to be a particular word that’s often reiterated when talking about them.
A word that jockey Nikki Alderson can’t help but mention when asked about her career in the racing industry.
“I just love it. I just love riding. I love being out there on them.”
Blonde, bright-eyed and a spring in her step, Alderson is all smiles as she hops off her last mount of the day and walks back to the jock’s room at Fort Erie Racetrack on a blissfully warm summer afternoon.
Alderson may be a recent addition to the jockey colony, but you’ve more than likely seen her face on Woodbine’s backstretch working horses early on a morning.
This spring, she took out her apprentice license and began her riding career at both Woodbine and Fort Erie.
Born in Brampton and raised in Dundalk, Ontario, Alderson’s racing roots can be traced back to her family’s involvement in the game. Her parents Lynette and Ed Walton owned a training centre called Southgate Farms, and Alderson soon enough integrated her school studies into spending quality time with her four-legged buddies at the centre.
“I took co-op in high school and I did co-op at my parents’ farm helping break babies and galloped there at the farm. I would take horses to Ajax Downs and work the horses there for them and just learned that way.”
Alderson’s dad, Ed Walton, is also a pretty established Quarter Horse jockey.
“He started when he was 16-years-old and then he took a long break while we were growing up and now he’s gone back – I think this is his tenth year back.”
Walton began his riding career at Mount Pleasant Park in Michigan in 1989 before moving his tack to Picov Downs for the next several years. After nearly a decade and a half out of the irons, Walton returned to Quarter Horse racing in 2008 at Ajax Downs.
Aside from race riding, the family has also run both Quarter Horses and thoroughbreds throughout the years. Not surprisingly, with her parents heavily immersed within the racing industry, Alderson was able to get a wide breadth of the racing game.
“I had to been to Woodbine with my dad running them and driving around to Mountaineer and Thistledown to run horses with them.”
Delving deeper into the thoroughbred element of things, Alderson began grooming and galloping horses in 2011 for Danny O’Callaghan at Woodbine.
The following year she met Jeffrey Alderson. The husband and wife duo currently both work out of Woodbine. Jeffrey is a well-known jockey on the Ontario circuit and has been riding at both Fort Erie and Woodbine for the last eight years.
Although Nikki continues to gallop horses at Woodbine, this year she made the decision that it was time to trade in the work boots and fashion the silks on the afternoon card as well.
“After I worked for Danny I went and galloped for Kevin Attard and I’m still galloping and working horses for him now. I’ve always really wanted to be a jockey but Jeff and I also have two kids, a six-year-old daughter named Jaelynn and a one-year-old boy named Chase. So it was kind of getting my family together and raising them and now I’m able to get my license and start riding.”
In mid-June, Alderson rode in her first race at Woodbine aboard a four-year-old bay filly named Sprung At Last. She finished in the money in the five-furlong sprint, but not first before the wire. However, it did not take her long to find the winner’s circle.
On June 25 at Fort Erie, she cruised home on Bold n’ Foxy to claim her first career win in the irons. Not long after, Alderson returned to the winner’s circle on July 2 at the Fort with Sprung At Last.
Dipping her toes into such a competitive pond of riders can be intimidating, but Alderson feels pretty positive about the experience thus far.
“It’s been amazing. Having other jockeys giving me pointers and things to work on has been awesome, because there are things even when I’m watching the replays I just want to learn - and the next race I get a little bit better. Every day you learn on a different horse.”
When asked to name a racehorse close to her heart, Alderson pauses, but is almost straight to the point by way of a few giggles:
“I can’t, there are just so many.”
However, she does admit there’s a certain horse in Attard’s barn that puts a smile on her face in the morning.
“I got on this horse last year as a two-year-old. His name is Lucas n’ Lori. And I got on him all this year getting him ready for the Plate. So it was pretty cool to watch him run in the Plate.”
The chestnut gelding ran a strong closing sixth place finish in this year’s Queen’s Plate.
Aside from watching Lucas n’ Lori put in some solid runs in the afternoon, what does Alderson love about him?
“He’s got so much attitude and personality and when you just watch him gallop his facial expressions are hilarious. He just loves it.”
There again, that word ‘love’ stumbles out effortlessly and into the quotes as Alderson gushes about her day job and those four-legged friends she works with.
Getting into the racing irons requires a ton of hard work, drive and the utmost dedication, but the quintessential element that ties it all together is a deep love for the game.
As Alderson works towards capturing the next win, it’s more than easy to see (and hear) that her heart is truly living out its best life under the racing dome. Within that frame, the budding jock has already won in possibly the best sort of way.