Clare Balding talks to HAYLEY TURNER
The second in our series of interviews featuring major stars in the sport of horseracing for whom 2008 promises to bring great things…
Hayley Turner has all she should need to be a leading jockey – talent, patience, determination and a wonderful understanding of horses. She has already won one championship, when she finished the 2005 season as the joint champion apprentice.
In recent months, she has been keeping a daily diary of the strange, funny or downright daft things that happen in her life.
“It was my Dad’s idea,” she explains, “I kept telling him all these stories about what the jockeys get up to, like JP Guillambert crashing his car three times on the way to the races and he told me that I should be writing it down!”
Don’t worry, Eclipse will be the first place you can read the diary, as and when it is ready for public consumption. Hearing Hayley talk of her peers, it is clear that she enjoys the legendary camaraderie of the Weighing Room.
“I’ve always got on well with them,” she says, “It’s not just about riding well and riding winners. You have to respect them and not go round thinking you’re getter than the rest. No one likes a smart arse!”
She names Derby-winning jockey Martin Dwyer as being ‘hilarious’ and says the other jockeys are always winding each other up.
Out on the course, she has also been getting on well. After claiming the champion apprentice title, she battled through the difficult period after losing her claim (the weight allowance an apprentice receives for being inexperienced) and has emerged unscathed. Tougher, happier and even more focused, she has a chance this month of becoming only the second woman to ride a winner at Royal Ascot. The only one so far, for those of you mugging up for Trivial Pursuit, was Gay Kelleway who won the Queen Alexandra on Sprowston Boy in 1987.
In August, Turner will captain the GB team for the Shergar Cup. It was at this international jockey’s competition last summer that she shone, riding the winner of the first race live on BBC television. With placed horses later in the day, she contributed valuable points to her team and proved her worth on a level playing field.
Turner is 25 years old and has been riding for nearly 24 of those years.
“I first sat on a pony when I was tiny, so I rode pretty well by the time I was three,” she says with no hint of irony. “My mother was a riding instructor so it was the natural thing. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I went to the Doncaster Racing School for a day when I was 15. I thought that was cool and my mind was set: I wanted to be a jockey.”
Most jockeys struggle with their weight but at a natural 8 stone 2, Turner has no problem.
“I can eat pretty much what I like,” she says, “although I am allergic to gluten so I can’t eat pasta, bread, biscuits, cake etc. It’s quite handy, really!”
As for her dress sense, she is always smart when she arrives at the races before changing into her jodhpurs and silks. The Royal meeting presents something of a challenge because she has to make a special effort.
“I always dress up for Royal Ascot,” she says, “I get a nice dress but I don’t wear a hat because then it looks as if I’m going for a day out, rather than working. I have to admit that I do get embarrassed going into the weighing room in case the other jocks see me and take the mick. So usually I will scuttle down the stairs and into the women’s changing room before any of them can see me!”
Turner is healthily self-critical and confesses that when she looks at videos of her early rides, she cringes with embarrassment. However, in the last few years, her style has improved and her race riding brain has developed. With more than 750 rides last season, she is undoubtedly popular but only two of those rides were in Group races (the highest quality).
“It’s hard to get on decent horses. I get plenty of rides but they are not always of the best quality. I want to have a big winner, which means getting on some better horses,” she explains, “It’s coming gradually. You have to work very hard and the more experience you get, the better.”
Hayley Turner will have to maintain that attitude but eventually, the chance will come. She has to overcome innate prejudice amongst owners and trainers, who automatically select a male jockey over a female one, but Turner has the talent to prove that it is no risk to hand her the reins.