The ones to watch… | Words and pictures by Sara Waterson
With the founding of the two Racing Colleges, even kids with no background in horses can now contemplate a race-riding career.
Hayley Turner’s recent exploits have been documented elsewhere by Eclipse; but we’ve spoken to a few of the other young ladies currently riding, and asked how they now see their prospects
KIRSTY MILCZAREK, nicknamed ‘Milkshake’, rode more than 70 winners last year. She’s a close friend of Hayley and is hard on her heels in the ‘ambition and success’ department, having already ridden out her claim last November on Ruby Tallulah for Nick Littmoden – the fifth woman to do so. Her background is in show-jumping at top youth level, but in spite of being tutored by the legendary Harvey Smith she decided when TV dropped the sport that sponsorship would no longer be sufficient to allow her to continue in that regime.
Switching to racing, she served most of her Apprenticeship with Neville Callaghan in Newmarket, then moved, on his retirement, to Marco Botti’s yard down the road for the final month of her claim. The previous winter she made regular headlines in the Racing Post, riding doubles and even a treble – her own ‘lady jockey first’! – and booting home long-priced winners at the all-weather tracks. Her reward was a pair of titles: she was ‘Hands and Heels’ Champion Apprentice in 2006 (in which youngsters hone their skills by riding without using their whips), and Betfair Series Champion Apprentice in 2007/08 for the all-weather winter series, coming second to Chris Catlin in that winter Championship overall, against the male pros. She also ranked fourth in the 2008 Annual Apprentice Championship. She’s continued to bang in winners for many trainers over the year, and to hone her natural skills – no doubt with good advice from her partner the former Champion Jockey Kieren Fallon, and the invaluable support of agent Neil Allen.
Kirsty, now spending that coveted winter in America to which most young jockeys aspire as a rite of passage, emailed Eclipse: “I am currently in California in the USA riding track work for Mr Patrick Biancone and Mr Neil Drysdale which I am thoroughly enjoying. I have been granted my Jockey’s licence but have to wait until my Visa arrives to race ride, which I am looking forward to. In the USA I am brushing up on timing (clock in my head) to perfect the times I set pace at etc, and knowing when perhaps a race is being ridden too fast or too slow so I know when to improve my position in a race or be patient. In America timing is paramount and riding work 5/6 times a day improves my fitness which perhaps I wouldn’t get from riding at home on the all-weather.”
She will return before the flat season, now a full professional freelance, to ride for such diverse trainers as James Toller, Michael Blanshard, Wille Haggas and Lady Anne Herries – in fact there are very few trainers who would not be happy to use her. Asked whether she feels Hayley’s century will help other girls in their careers, she wrote: “I watched on the computer every day and was really pleased she reached a milestone that any jockey – not just us Ladies – wants to reach. Do I think it will help the girls?? Honestly, yes and no! Yes, it’s great publicity for us to prove a ‘girl’ is capable of it. No, because I feel a lot of the girls are now going to be unfairly compared to Hayley, and probably before they get the chance to reach their real potential in their career.”
KYLIE MANSER started out as an Amateur, winning the coveted Lady Amateur’s diamond necklace on Mine Behind for John Best on King George Day at Ascot in 2005. She took out an Apprentice licence, had lessons from former Champion Jockey Stan Mellor to improve her skills in a finish, and later moved from Best’s yard to Brendan Powell’s dual-purpose set-up in Lambourn, where she did well. She’s just moved on to the Newmarket all-flat yard of Gay Kelleway, who as a former jockey herself (and the first woman to win a race at Royal Ascot) has supported a lot of young women in the sport, but she’s currently taking a week in America to ride work, her prize for winning the 2008 Pontefract Apprentice Jockey Series. Kylie burns with ambition, and she only needs two more wins for her claim to reduce to 5lbs.
SOPHIE DOYLE has grown up in a racing yard – her mother Jacqui trains near Lambourn – but has had the misfortune to be the younger sister of jockey James Doyle, joint Champion Apprentice of 2006, so she’s had to fight for rides in even in her ‘home yard’! Starting in pony showing as a kid, she’s been involved in the racing side since age 11. Sophie has grafted in the yard, riding out several lots every morning since her teens, helping break yearlings after school, and doing her share of mucking out and leading up. In common with all the girls mentioned she has managed to win on long-time maidens, then only to lose the ride to an older (male!) pro once the horse has the winning habit.
She’s currently, however, enjoying a very successful winter riding in the United Arab Emirates for Rod Simpson, trainer for Al Asayl racing (owned by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin zayed Al Nahyan and Sheika Sultan bin Khalifa bin zayed Al Nayan). Sophie tells us: “HH Sheikh Khalifa is the Ruler of the UAE, so I’m really working for the top people out here – and very honoured to be doing so. Rod Simpson has been fantastic to me: he has given me a lot of good chances – not just maidens but rides in big races like the Listed win I had. He’s given me good guidance and really boosted my confidence.”
Having ridden winners now at all three UAE tracks, Abu Dhabi, Jebel Ali, and Nad al Sheba in Dubai, Sophie has also ridden for the Maktoum family (including both Sheikh Rashid and Sheik Ahmed) and for other prominent Arab owners. She’s notched up eight wins and quite a few more places, and feels she has learned a huge amount by being permitted to keep rides on better quality horses for their target races.
Sophie hopes that the drive her success in the UAE has fostered will carry over into the new season back in the UK, and feels her colleague’s high profile can only spur on the other girls in the Weighing Room: “What Hayley has done won’t make things harder for us. She has given us a fantastic target to reach – and if you set yourself targets for each season, as you achieve them the more your confidence will grow and it will pay off.” Let’s hope her enterprise does so!
KELLY HARRISON is possibly the most senior and talented of the girl Apprentices riding from the northern racing bases in Yorkshire. She’s had quite a few wins for Scottish trainer Jim Goldie – sadly being headed in the final furlong in the Cambridgeshire! Another fan is trainer Bill Ratcliffe: “She won three races on [stable star] Bel Cantor including a Class 3 at Pontefract and then the Class 2 at Ripon. She then rode Bel when placed in the Ayr Silver Cup. The reason I use Kelly is because she’s good, as simple as that. She’s very professional. She rides with her head, researches the horses, walks the tracks and puts the work in with the horses at home. She gets to know them and they go well for her. She is also very good with owners.“
AMY BAKER is another young woman going places. She grew up in the world of pony- and show-jumping, progressed to Arab racing, and then took out her licence in 2004, joining the local yard of Nerys Dutfield. Shortly after, she got an agent and moved from Devon to the Newmarket yard of Julia Fielden, whose ‘tough love’ regime is teaching her plenty about the ups and downs of the business. Amy is also Champion Lady Rider in Jersey for the third year, thanks to an introduction to their top trainer Joan Le Brocq. In England she now rides for around thirty trainers, notably David Elsworth, and has reduced her claim to 5lbs.
ROSIE JESSOP, still only 19, began riding in 2008 but has already had a lot of rides, and is tipped for success. As one insider remarked: “You have to be pretty good to work for Sir Mark Prescott!” – the Baronet is a famously hard taskmaster. Rosie has also had winners for James Given and been supported by a number of other trainers, and like Amy she has continued to ride the all-weather tracks through the winter when the higher profile jocks are taking a break – through such graft is experience gained and contacts made.
Adele Rothery has been riding a bit longer, and gets a lot of rides from her boss Dandy Nicholls, but like Rosie and Amy, has a long way to go in terms of winners. Danielle McCreery rides mainly for her boss Alan Berry. Natalia Gemelova from Slovakia, also based in Yorkshire with Ian McInnes and riding the northern tracks, is hoping to resuscitate her career this coming season after being off for some while with injury – something which the talented Laura Reynolds sadly proved unable to do a couple of years back.
Jemma Marshall gets plenty of rides from her boss Gary Moore – it helps greatly to be attached to a large yard – and for other nearby Sussex trainers. Meanwhile Newmarket-based ‘new kid on the block’ Holly Hall has been around a few years but her recent first win on Stargazy for Kachina Racing has fired her ambition and she’s now taking the honing of her fitness and strength much more seriously. Another graduate of the British Racing School, Amy Parsons, is making quite a name for herself over in Ireland.
We wish all these hard-working girls the best of luck for the forthcoming season in their search for “better horses, bigger races, and bigger trainers”. Competition for rides is relentless, and the more ambitious are beginning to realise that a good agent who will fight for you is essential. Will this be the year that one of the numerically powerful yards with bottomless Arab patronage finally offers a retainer to a woman? We shall watch their progress with interest!