Comignaghi surpassing her own modest expectations

By Dennis Ryan

23 Mar 2022

Comignaghi surpassing her own modest expectationsLeading South Island jockey Tina Comignaghi

“The car caught fire and luckily I was able to get out before it burst into flames.”
For someone who describes herself as not having great expectations, Tina Comignaghi is doing very well, thank you, as this season’s leading southern jockey.
The Argentine-born 32-year-old recently passed the 250-win mark and with a personal best of 64 wins at the two-thirds mark in the current season, she holds a lead of more than 20 over fellow female jockey Kylie Williams on the unofficial South Island premiership.
That’s a remarkable achievement for someone who became a jockey by default a decade ago after arriving in New Zealand on a working holiday, and since beginning her apprenticeship has encountered more than her share of career-threatening injuries. The worst of those have been two fractured wrists and the most recent a broken back suffered in a car accident 12 months ago.
“It’s hard to believe, it’s exceeded my expectations,” Comignaghi admitted when RaceForm spoke to her earlier this week. “I never thought I would come this far.
“I don’t have long-term goals, I’ve tried to in the past but they don’t work out for me. I’m just happy to be riding winners and doing well, so yes, I’m very happy with how my career is going.”
Comignaghi’s unexpected journey began when she was back-packing around the South Island in her late teens. Needing to top up her meagre savings, she put her horse-riding upbringing to good use with a job in a racing stable. That led to a suggestion to consider becoming a jockey and after heading back to Argentina to weigh up her future, she returned and signed up with North Canterbury trainers John and Karen Parsons.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without John and Karen, they’ve been wonderful to me. They work so hard, I take my hat off to them.”
The husband-and-wife partners remain great supporters, with that arrangement including regular work riding at their Balcairn stable. It was while driving north one morning from her Christchurch home last March that Comignaghi had a traffic accident that could have ended everything.
“I must have dozed off and I realised too late there was a concrete truck just ahead of me that had almost stopped while it was turning off the road. I slammed my brakes on but I was still going quite fast and I crashed into it.
“I knew I had injured my back but it could have been a lot worse. The car caught fire and luckily I was able to get out before it burst into flames.”
Comignaghi was diagnosed with two fractured vertebrae in her lower back – thankfully the only other damage was bruising from her seatbelt – and she was sidelined for the remainder of the season. The past eight months have gone a long way to making up for lost time, with a tally that includes best-ever statistics in winners, stake-earnings by her mounts ($1.12 million) and a strike-rate of 5.25.
That last stat was given a big nudge earlier this month with eight wins across three meetings in the space of a week, but the downside was a four-day careless riding suspension at the last of them, Gore on March 11.
“That was my first suspension for over a year, just a lack of concentration,” says Comignaghi, who will be back in action at Riccarton Saturday.
One metric she would like to improve on is her stakes race tally which stands at eight overall and just one this season, on the Michael and Matthew Pitman-trained Reputabelle in the Listed NZB Airfreight Stakes at Wingatui earlier this month.
“We don’t get a lot of black-type races down here, but that’s something else I would like to do better at, make the most of the chances I get.
“My agent Eddie Brooks is a big part of my success, he’s very good at getting me on the right horses, so I’m hoping we can have some more luck on Saturday.”
Comignaghi’s Riccarton book is headed by the Ross Beckett-trained Beneficial in the Gr. 3 Valachi Downs South Island Breeders’ Stakes. Horse and rider combined to win an open 1400m at Riccarton earlier this month, having also finished second in the Listed Timaru Cup in late December. Other in-form engagements include another last-start winner, the Pitman-trained Proserve, and the promising two-year-old Redmond.
“We’ve yet to confirm a couple but it’s shaping up as another full book,” said Comignaghi’s agent, veteran Ashburton identity Eddie Brooks. “I wasn’t that keen when I was approached to do Tina’s rides about a year and half ago, but I don’t regret being talked into it.
“She’s such a modest person and a pleasure to work with. The results she’s getting are due to all the hard work she puts in and of course, her natural riding ability. She gets on so well with horses, they respond to her and if I may say, the best is yet to come.”