Clerk's career has been a great ride
FOR those who have been captivated by her ever-smiling face all these years, the Ipswich Cup just won't be the same again.
For Sharon Howes - formerly Bayliss - she's expecting her last day as Clerk of the Course at Ipswich racetrack tomorrow to be an emotional affair.
"Oh, I'll be crying all day. I'll probably be saying, 'Okay, I'm not leaving; I'm staying'," Sharon said.
"People are saying, 'Why are you leaving?' and I'm like, 'Because I've done 26 years' and they say, 'But you're only 26 now' and I say, 'Thank you.' I'll still keep coming back to see everyone.
"My kids don't want me to give up. They used to tell people I was a stripper when I was a strapper. I used to wonder why none of their friends would come over to play."
She's not giving up because she doesn't love it any more; it's because she has a job at a chemist and her horse Jacko is getting old.
As head Clerk of the Course, Sharon's official job description is fairly straightforward - lead troublesome horses to the starting gates, catch horses that run away before the start, escort the winning horse and jockey back to the mounting enclosure.
But Sharon has turned her role into so much more - advisor, confidante, cheerleader, model.
"Dad did 35 years at Eagle Farm, Doomben and Bundamba. I was doing it for six years before I took over from him here," she said.
"When I was 16 they needed a second rider for the winter carnival and they rang mum to see if she knew anyone and she volunteered me and 26 years later I'm still here. Thanks mum."
But she said there were a lot more positives than negatives, especially all those Ipswich Cup days. The stand-out was 1989 when her brother Jamie rode the winner of the Cup and she led him and his mount back into the enclosure.
"I thought Chris Munce had won and I was like, 'That's a shame' and then the number went up and I went, 'Oh my God' and I was like, 'Ooh, that's us; yay'," she said. "And we had all the family cheering up in the grandstand."
Jamie's two boys, Jake and Regan, are apprentice jockeys in Melbourne and Sharon would have loved to stay on to lead them in as winners but it wasn't to be.
"I work full-time and I only really have Saturdays off and my horse is getting a bit old and 26 sounded a good number to finish up. It's too hard to find a replacement horse like him.
"So I thought, yeah, we'll both go out together. We've been a good team. He's 20. He'll go out to the farm and we'll use him for cattle work and things like that.
"I am going to miss it. I love it; we have a joke. (Jockey) Michael Hellyer calls us the A Team because when I lead him around he often wins so when I told him I was finishing he said: 'You can't wreck the A-Team'.
"They're always asking me chemist questions if they've got a cold or the flu or ingrown toenails. They'll say, 'I don't really need a lead I just need some advice'.
"With the little jockeys I say, 'My name's Sharon; please don't be scared to ask if you need something; just give me a wink or something and I'll be straight there to help'.
"I enjoyed riding with dad when he was here and now with Susie; we all get along really good and we work as a great team together."
Jacko will also be missed. The grey has become a crowd favourite in his 10 years at the races.
Every week, a young woman in a wheelchair called Heather brought him an apple or carrot.
Sharon says Ipswich Turf Club general manager Brett Kitching is taking her leaving especially hard.
"He won't talk to me because he says if we talk it's going to happen."
Asked for comment, Brett sounded as if he was in denial.
"We'd be devastated to see Sharon leave," he said.
"You won't find another clerk of the course anywhere in Australia who has the smile and persona when leading back the winner.
"She's always been a pleasure to work with and has never had an issue in my time with jockeys or stewards anywhere."