Girls on the Job

Girls on the Job

Friday, August 18, 2017


Hayley Turner will be one of the star attractions, and one of the most familiar faces, when she takes her customary place in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup line-up. It is good for the event Hayley is involved. It is also good for Hayley.

It was only a few weeks ago, just after Hayley had returned with a winner at Windsor, that we had a good chat at Lingfield about her future. Listening to her, it was obvious she was wondering if she had done the right thing by stopping riding.

I think I was probably a good person to speak to because we both retired in 2015. Thereafter, the stories we told each other were very different.

Hayley asked me if I missed race-riding and I had to tell her that, plainly and truthfully, I did not. I was, and I am, perfectly happy I had done enough as a jockey.

I explained to her that when I briefly came out of retirement to take part in the Leger Legends race at Doncaster I failed to experience anything like the sort of buzz I used to get. When I rode it was always all or nothing. It meant something. The Leger Legends race was for charity. In terms of being a competitive sporting contest it felt much less important than everything I had done before.

That impacted on how much pleasure I took from the Doncaster race. However, it wasn't just that. I also didn't feel fit enough. I know nobody expects the people taking part in those ex-jockeys races to be at peak fitness, but I didn't feel anywhere near the level I used to reach. It would be akin to asking Lewis Hamilton a few years from now to race in a go-kart and then asking if him felt like taking part in a proper grand prix.

Unlike me, Hayley loved returning to the track. In fact, I got the impression she was surprised just how much she loved it.

As a result, my main advice was to take the bull by the horns. Wait another two years and it would be nowhere near so easy to come back, maybe even impossible. If she was going to do it, she had to do it sooner rather than later. It would also have been daft to worry what other people might have thought. Who cares?

Hayley has been helped by the fact that as a jockey she never had weight problems and didn't seem to have put on many pounds since quitting the saddle. I have put on weight and I doubt I would be able to get if off again. Since she started taking rides I've watched her and come to the conclusion she is as good as ever.

I remember once trying to put her over the rail - and I couldn't. She was drawn on my inside at Kempton and managed to get the best position on the fence. I decided to take it off her but she stood her ground and fought to keep it. I respected her even more after that.

She says she will soon be basing herself in France and trying to take advantage of the 2kg (4.4lb) allowance female riders now receive in anything that is not a Group or Listed race. It makes complete sense for her to do that. Imagine running a two-year-old filly against colts over five furlongs with Hayley taking 2kg off her back. How on earth would any jockey be able to give Hayley that sort of weight racing up a straight line?

In terms of the rights and wrongs of the allowance, I would be lying if I said I was certain about being for or against. I also don't know if I would want to see an allowance introduced over here.

What about those male jockeys who are perfectly good but, for whatever reason, find it hard to get rides? They don't get any sort of allowance or extra help in France. Who is looking after them? People like Josephine Gordon say the allowance is an insult but if I was her I would be campaigning to get it introduced, knowing what good it would do me.

It's quite clear women get fewer chances than men. However, the way things are going that is going to change. Over the next five years the sport is going to further evolve.

If you look at my yard, the majority of those riding out are girls. Contrast that with then I was an apprentice. Back then, I would hardly ever have seen a girl riding out. I would say across most yards the ratio of girls to boys riding out is 70:30. I don't see how that isn't going to have a significant impact on the way racing looks over the coming years.

We have already experienced a culture change. People used to be ignorant of the fact female jockeys ride just as well as their male counterparts. The problem in the old days is there weren't enough good female jockeys. That's not the case now. Who wouldn't want to see Nina Carberry riding their horse over fences? These days more and more women are getting the chance to prove themselves. Some will make it, others will not. It will simply depend on whether or not they are good enough.

Our own apprentice, Nicola Currie, is certainly proving herself to be good enough. She is now starting to be used by other trainers, which, in itself, has been important to her recent progress. You cannot learn to race-ride on a rocking horse watching the telly. You can only learn to race-ride by competing in loads of races and making loads of mistakes.

I felt I only became a proper jockey after I had spent five years in Britain learning how to ride the tracks. Indeed, it was only in the last ten to 15 years of my career I believe I was at my best. That shouldn't come as no surprise as jockeys get better with age, especially jump jockeys.

Before Nicola joined us she wasn't really get enough proper tuition when it comes to riding a race. That's what she needed. It's what all young jockeys needs, male or female.

I don't care what anyone says, you don't have to be strong to be an effective jockeys. Most races are won by the rider in the best position. It's nothing to do with strength.

There were plenty of occasions when I walked out of the weighing room to ride a horse at 8st 6lb. On those days I wouldn't have had the strength to pull up a zip but I was still strong enough to boot home winners. How is it I can hold a horse who weighs 500 kilos, whereas a lad who weighs 12st can't. It's all about technique. When I was just ten years old I could near enough ride every horse in my dad's yard. I only weighed 5st at the time.

Nicola's instinct is now to go in between horses rather than to go around them. That's the only way to win races. She rode a winner at Sandown the other day. At one point she had a wall of horses in front of her. The old Nicola would have gone around those horses. Instead, she waited for a gap and took it when it came.

I'm full of hope Nicola has a bright future as a jockey. In her second stint in the saddle, so does Hayley.

I had some good fun at the Shergar Cup over the years and am represented as a trainer this time with Goodwood Crusader (4.00).

He didn't read the script when he ran at the track he gets his name from in the Stewards' Cup consolation race. He jumped too quickly and saw too much daylight.

This will be a different sort of race and it might well be an advantage there are only ten runners as all the races he has won came in small fields. The twice he has been beaten since posting his five wins have been in big fields. The thing about him is he wants pace. He is quite petite, though, and doesn't need big sprinters leaning on him.

Golden Wolf, who goes to Lingfield (5.10), probably should have won a race by now. We had to cut him and we're on a learning curve with him.

In his first four races we tried break his maiden tag on the all-weather, where to win a maiden you really need to race in the first three. Unfortunately, that isn't the way to ride this horse. We dropped him for the first time at Chester last weekend and he flew home to run a blinder. If he handles the testing ground on Lingfield's turf course I think he'll win.

Princess Lyla (6.10) will struggle for fitness on her first start for 70 days if the conditions are really bad at Lingfield, but if they're not too bad she'll get away with it. She has shown me enough to make me think she can win off her current mark.

It was only a Brighton seller but Tojosimbre's Wednesday victory took us to 37 winners for the year, one more than we achieved in 2016.

His owners lost their money when backing him at Lingfield. We don't really know what happened that day, so we thought we would have another go at Brighton. They went in again and got their money back plus a bit more.

I was pleased to see there wasn't a bid for him. The further he went at Brighton the better he got. He won off 46 and as there isn't much between horses at up to 0-60 level I think he can win a couple more races.