BENDIGO jockey John Keating has taken the first steps towards a return to race riding.
Keating rode four horses in work at Bendigo racecourse on Friday morning and says he is happy with how he pulled up.
Other than a brief stint aboard one horse on Tuesday morning, it was the affable jockey's first time in the saddle since his winning ride on the Matthew Enright-trained Bonfire Gold at Wangaratta on April 24.
Keating suffered fractures to his T4 and T7 vertebrae as well as a high neck fracture and collarbone injury, when the gelding fell just past the winning post.
The 47-year-old was hospitalised and has spent three and a half months away from the bustle and grind of the race track and still has no recollections of the incident or race.
Moments after putting the Shaun Dwyer-trained city winner Hay Now through her paces on Friday, a chipper Keating declared it was 'sensational to be back'.
"I've been out for three and a half months now, but the last two months I've been itching to get back," he said.
"Early, things were good. I was having a holiday initially, albeit a holiday in pain, but once the pain subsided and my body improved, I was counting down the days to getting back.
"It was very frustrating, especially with a lot of the horses I had been helping prepare here at Bendigo, and even at Kyneton, were racing and racing well.
"To be sitting on the sidelines watching them race was a hard thing to do."
Keating reported pulling up 'surprisingly well', but 'a little bit stiff in the thighs' and has now set his sights firmly on a return to the races.
The winner of more than 700 races insisted he had suffered worst injuries in his two-decade long career, including serious head injuries in a fall at Kyneton in 2004.
But he was always confident of defying the medicos to be back ahead of schedule.
"Initially with the back and neck injuries they said six to eight weeks, but after the operation on the collarbone they said up to six months," he said.
"Being back at track work has been reduced down to three months, so hopefully I'll be back (race) riding in a few weeks .... three weeks at the most I hope.
"It might even be under three weeks, it just depends how it pans out going forward with riding a few trials and things."
Keating continues to be grateful for the support of the Bendigo and wider racing communities.
"There have been lots of words of encouragement from local owners and trainers, as well as friends and family," he said.
"Especially my wife Desiree, she has been instrumental in getting everything right with my injuries and paper-work, and giving me the kick on the butt I needed to get out and do some exercise.
"The Bendigo community has really gotten behind me and given me the heart to keep going and get back."
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