Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hayley's Comet

Hayley’s Comet

By Stephen Dwyer

Hayley Turner is not a jockey. Politically speaking of course. The word “jockey” is a 16th century Northern English or Scots colloquial of the name “John” which diminutively became “jock”. A jockey was always male, originally a boy or postilion who had dealings with horses. Though Hayley is a woman, you would never know from her strength in the saddle.

Through their achievements, certain jockeys have written themselves into the annals of history. In 1840, the first Champion Flat Jockey, Elnathan "Nat" Flatman held the title for thirteen years. Just four other jockeys, Fred Archer, Steve Donoghue, Gordon Richards and Lester Piggott held it for almost sixty years collectively. They were what the Americans call; Game Changers.

Standing a shade over 5ft 2in and weighing under 8 stone, Hayley Turner carries a Lilliputian frame and appears to be forever smiling. At a recent photo shoot in aid of Breast Cancer charities, Hayley appeared with nine other female jockeys. Beaming directly at the camera, she was a picture of youth, elegance and self-assuredness. Despite her gentle presence, make no mistake about it, Hayley Turner is a Game Changer.

Born in January 1983, Hayley started riding horses at the age of three. As the youngest of six girls in the Turner family (her mother was a riding instructor) her journey has come a long way since sitting atop her chestnut pony Eric as a toddler.

She is a former Champion Apprentice Jockey. In 2008, she captained the British team in the Shergar Cup as well as becoming the first female rider to pass 100 winners in the calendar year. Her first Group 1 ride was on Barshiba in the Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, having won the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks on the same horse at Haydock a month earlier. She is also the first woman jockey to ride for Godolphin.

Fresh from a recent career high when she partnered Dream Ahead last month in the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket, Hayley is all smiles. On August 1st she scraped home by a neck in an evening sprint handicap on Efistorm. Jokingly describing the 10yo as an “OAP”, Efistorm provided Turner with her 500th career win. Putting this into context, Alex Greaves partnered around 300 winners in a 15-year career.

Out of the saddle Hayley Turner is a multiple winner of the Channel 4 Racing Personality of the Year, a media darling and “Face of the Derby”. She is a regular sight on television and in the media. But the road to the top has had its fair share of setbacks.

Watching her diet is a challenge exacerbated by the an intolerance to bread and pasta. As a sufferer of coeliac disease, a stomach condition which that prevents her eating gluten, her weight is constantly hovering around the 8 stone mark. Hayley’s entry into the world of race riding was also marred. On her first ever tide back in 2000 at her local track, Southwell, 17-year old Hayley was aboard a 25-1 chance, Markellis. The horse suffered a fatal injury mid-race and was humanely destroyed.

Rather than discourage her from the sport, made the impressionable jockey even more determined. Just seven rides later, Generate gave Turner her first win, she recalls
"It was a bit of a steering job, really. I watch the video now and I just cringe. I think to myself, 'Look at those arms. How did I win that?' "

In March 2009, she a sustained a very serious head injury following a stalls accident at Newmarket. Described by Hayley "I was exercising a horse, and it fired me into the ground. I remember coming out of the stalls and that's about it for a few weeks.

The accident caused immediate cranial bruising and bleeding from the ears. Hayley was stood down for a year, she could not ride in any races. Instead of resting for the twelve months, she appealed the ruling and was back race riding within four months.

She is affiliated with Michael Bell, a trainer with whom she was apprenticed and is insipring a generation of new female jockeys to join the ranks of their male counterparts.

Not alone is her success to date incredible, it is, more importantly, profoundly affecting. In an interview six years ago, Turner was asked about her biggest challenge as a female rider. Surprisingly, it was not competing in a finish against naturally-stronger males or worrying about injuries or failures. With her finger firmly on the pulse, she said “It's finding the owners and trainers with the courage to put a girl on a horse”

Since that interview in 2005, those owners and trainers who put their faith in Hayley Turner have been richly rewarded. Not alone in monetary terms, but in being associated with a young rider who is determined to succeed and who you know in your heart, will.

More luck to her.

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