Thursday, September 3, 2015

Queen of the crop

Queen of the crop

By Stephen Dwyer


The July cup is one of the top sprint races of the European flat season. Held on the July Course at Newmarket, the track almost always rides quick. In the Group 1 Darley Cup of 2011, it was no different. As the race developed, one jockey was in trouble. 28 year old Hayley Turner, riding the David Simcock-trained Dream Ahead, was two furlongs from the winning post and boxed in. She had never sat on the horse before as Will Buick, the regular rider had to ride at York that day.

With time running out, Turner had to switch left a furlong out, a difficult manoeuvre at best, not least in a furiously-ran sprint race. In an instant Hayley changed hands and steered the three year old colt out of trouble and into a clear path. Under a strong drive, she forged clear and won the race by a neck. In doing so Hayley Turner who became only the second female rider to win a Group 1 in Britain (the other was Alex Greaves, dead-heated on Ya Malak in 1997 Nunthorpe).

Dream Ahead of course was no slouch, he was is one of two Group 1 winners by Diktat, winner of the Prix Maurice de Gheest and Haydock Sprint Cup, alongside Rajeem, who landed the Falmouth Stakes on the Newmarket July course. But that day in Newmarket, Hayley Turner was outstanding. Dream Ahead ran three more times, winning two Group 1 races but Turner did not keep the ride. In a way, this was indicative of Hayley Turner's career. Opportunity would come knocking, she would answer, notch up a series of winners and earn the valid reputation as a gifted rider. But it was all transient and the wake of this type of treatment that this week leading flat lady rider of our generation is retiring at just 32.

It is common knowledge that women (but only aged over 30) were granted the vote in 1918, but it was another 48 years before the Jockey Club issued its first trainer's licence to a woman, and six more before the they were allowed to ride. In what was very much a male-dominated sport, even the progressive attitude in American was curtailed. Diane Crump, one of the USA's first female jockey, had to fight her way through an angry crowd to get to her first race at the age of 18. During the 1960's in her memoirs she recounts being heckled with tirades of "Go back to the kitchen and cook dinner". Of course if it were not for pioneers like Crump, later riders such as Nina Carberry, Katie Walsh in Ireland and Hayley Turner and Kirsty Milczarek in the UK to take up the mantle as lady riders.

Life was not all straight forward to Hayley Turner. She suffered a series of injuries throughout her career and showed toughness and resilience when returning after each one. At  the St. Leger meeting a few years ago she was thrown  from a horse (below) and fractured three vertebrae in her back as well as her pelvis. She was sidelined for months.



But she did what all good jockeys do, regardless of their gender - they kept going. Awarded joint Champion Apprentice with Saleem Golam with 44 winners in 2005, her early career flourished. In recent seasons she has many rides but the winners dipped. Turner said lately "“I get plenty of rides, I’m paying my mortgage. But being a jockey isn’t just a job, it’s your lifestyle and it’s difficult to have a work/life balance. I just feel that I’ve done so much, what a way to finish it and then let’s go and take on something else.”"

So the next challenge beckons. A pundit on the Sky-owned channel AtTheRaces where she will cast an expert eye on proceedings from the studio. Turner has become an inspiration for young female riders and she is solely responsible for the huge surge in women jockeys over the past few years. In Ireland, many racecourses did not even have separate changing rooms for men and women but thankfully this is now a thing of the past.

Lady riders received a welcome boost of late too when former Olympian Victoria Pendleton joined their ranks. It is an upward curve and a welcome addition to an area which is as resistant to change as gravity.

Hayley Turner will be missed but her legacy endures. She took up the reins and gave it billy-o. Fair play to you Hayley. Respect granted, given by us all who cheered you on from safety.



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Shortlisted for the Blog Awards Ireland 2015


Delighted to say that I am shortlisted for the 2015 Ireland Blog Awards !

My blog has been shortlisted in Best Innovation Blog Category.

The shortlist is now up on http://www.blogawardsireland.com/

Thanks for the nomination and vote of approval!