Racing stable fined for track rider's workplace death
Every morning in her final years of high school, Mikaela Claridge rode 6km to a local horse trainer and worked as a stablehand - rain, hail or shine.
Horses had been a passion since she was three, and years of pony club on weekends with her brothers and travel to equestrian events with her mum had done nothing but grow that.
She wanted to be a jockey. And she became one.
But the career and the passion that should have been her future was the thing that ended it.
The 22-year-old apprentice was thrown from a horse while track riding on the Cranbourne Turf Club sand trails in the pitch black at 4.30am on August 30, 2019.
Her fellow rider Jaimee Hayes, who had also been thrown, rushed for help but Ms Claridge couldn't be saved.
They had been riding for Saloon Park, the racing company owned by Ken Keys and his wife Louise.
The racing stable was fined $350,000 on Friday, even after their lawyer argued a fine significantly smaller than that would render them insolvent.
The company had been found guilty by a jury of failing to ensure a safe workplace, and Judge Peter Rozen said the fine had to demonstrate the seriousness of the offence and the obligation of employers to protect employees.
It was argued they could have prevented risks to Ms Claridge and other riders by stopping them riding on the unlit sand trails, which were narrow and lined with thick scrub, in the dark.
Cranbourne Turf Club was fined $250,000 for breaching Occupational Health and Safety legislation, after it was argued it could have made the sand trails on its property safer with lighting, or introduced restrictions to allow them only to be used in daylight.
Ms Claridge had commented to Ms Hayes as they set out for their first lap of the trails on how dark it was that morning, with no moon to even light their way.
Another trainer using the turf club had made the decision to only use the sand trails in the daylight, Judge Rozen said.
Bernie Claridge said his daughter had called him a week earlier worried about how dark it was on their early starts.
The size of the fine means nothing to him and his wife Colleen because their daughter's life was priceless.
But they hope the convictions will lead to real changes in the racing industry, to improve safety so other families won't go through the tragedy that theirs has.
"I am beyond proud of what she achieved in her 22 years and how lucky we were as a family to have such a beautiful daughter and sister in our lives," he told the court.
He believes the day Ms Claridge signed up to be an apprentice jockey was the happiest day of her life.
"Our girl was on her way," he said.
Personally and professionally she was happy and loving what turned out to be the final months of her life, her mum said.
Her fellow rider and girlfriend Chelsea Hall said Ms Claridge had a bounce in her step and was valuing her own happiness for once.
Saloon Park has six months to pay the fine.