THERE'S just no stopping Bendigo jockey Courtney Pace.
The 27-year-old is leaving rivals in her wake after an outstanding start to the year on the Victorian picnic racing circuit.
Pace rang in the new year by booting home four of the six winners on the card at Merton, in north-east Victoria.
Included was a win in the Merton Cup aboard the Brian Gentle Bendigo-trained galloper Nine Mile Sniper.
Pace, who is the daughter of former Bendigo trainer and former jockey Arthur Pace, was unlucky not to make it five wins for the afternoon after she was relegated into second position in the third race.
It was Pace's third career haul of four wins in a day and followed a double at the previous meeting at Drouin in late December.
Her recent run of good form has shot Pace to the top of the Victorian picnic jockey's premiership, with 31 wins, 29 seconds and 15 thirds.
That is six wins clear of her nearest rival Reece Goodwin, who narrowly pipped Pace for the jockey's premiership last season.
It might seem a long way from the hustle and bustle of Flemington at Spring Carnival time or Bendigo on Cup day, but the picnic meets are no less competitive, according to Pace.
"I'm pretty competitive myself, so it's something I look forward to each weekend, going out there and getting the job done," she said.
"Hopefully that means a few winners for the good people who support the races each week.
"It's good competition with the other riders - it creates a lot of interest, which is good for picnic racing."
For Pace, a return to the picnics was the natural progression once her promising professional riding career ended.
"I was an apprentice for a while and I did enjoy it, but I did battle a bit with weight issues," she said.
"But I do enjoy riding and I am happy where I am.
"The (picnic) weight scale is a bit heavier - the minimum weight is 63kg - that's pretty heavy for me and I'm well and truly under that."
With the picnic season only half complete, Pace knows she will need to remain at the top of her game to stave off Goodwin and their nearest rivals Grant Seccombe (19 wins) and Michael Kent (17).
That challenge begins at Dederang on Saturday.
More than 5000 people are expected to pack the racecourse, located in the Kiewa River Valley, about 30 minutes from Myrtleford, for the town's sole race meeting for the year.
Pace said the relaxed vibe of the picnics, together with her obvious love of horses, were the main reasons for her wanting to remain in the industry.
"You get a lot of families come along, and a lot of bucks parties and hen's days," she said.
"It's a really relaxed day and the crowds can be massive - you probably get a bigger crowd than you would at a lot of other meetings.
"People just swamp to the track. "