Robert Garner
3 minute read
14 Nov 2015
11:00 am

Hayley Turner: More than just a job

Robert Garner

Strangely, Hayley Turner’s last ride as a professional jockey will be at Turffontein this afternoon.

Hayley Turner riding You Da One looks on in the Britannia Stakes on Ladies' Day during day three of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 20, 2013 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse)

Turner, 32, born in England, and the most successful woman jockey in British horseracing history, has decided to hang up her boots and had her last ride in her home country a week ago when she finished second in a race at Doncaster.

But the final curtain on her relatively short but accomplished career will come down at Turffontein today, when she captains a team of overseas riders in a four-race clash against six of South Africa’s top jockeys. It’s the second leg of the racing. It’s the International Jockeys’ Challenge, which began with the first four races in the contest at Fairview in Port Elizabeth yesterday.

Taught to ride by her mother Kate, a riding instructor, Turner’s race-riding career began aboard a horse called Markellis in a race at Southwell back in March 2000. Markellis didn’t win, but Turner didn’t have to wait that long for her first taste of success, which came eight rides and three months later in a race at Pontefract.

In the 15 years since she has proved a tower of inspiration for her sex, which is highlighted by the significant increase in the number of female apprentice jockeys riding in the UK in the last few years. Turner’s milestones in the UK include being the first woman jockey to win the champion apprentice title (2005); the first woman to ride 100 winners in a year and the first to ride a winner for the Queen (2010).

Turner was apprenticed to trainer Michael Bell and that was the beginning of a successful 13-year partnership with the pinnacle being the triumph of Margot Did in the 2011 Group One Nunthorpe Stakes. Bell once paid her the highest compliment when saying that she was as good a rider as any man, but the reality is she had to be to succeed.

There’s just too much at stake in horseracing for any quarter to be given to man or woman when it comes to jockeyship. A trainer or owner’s only consideration when choosing a jockey for a horse is whether the rider will be able to extract a maximum effort from the horse at the end of a race.

That many believed that Turner could do just that is evidenced by her career record of more than 750 winners, including wins in two elite Group One events in England and one in the United States.

“I’ve massively exceeded my expectations,” says Turner. “I’ve done pretty much everything, apart from have a Classic winner – but you could ride for another 10 years and not even get close to having one of those. I’ve reached lots of milestones and I’ve left the bar quite high for anyone else to take on.”

And of the women who plan to follow in her footsteps she says: “Maybe it gives them a target to aim at. Now they can see it’s hard, but it is do-able.” Turner’s career lost momentum following a horrible fall at Doncaster in 2013, when she broke three vertebrae and chipped her pelvis. She lost her confidence for a time, but enjoyed a positive season this year with more than 40 winners.

So why is she retiring just when her career seems to be getting back on track? “I still love riding, and I love racing as much as I ever have done,” she explains.

“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 want a change.” Turner’s new career will be in television as she is joining At The Races, a dedicated horseracing TV channel in the UK, as a pundit.

“I’ll be very rubbish to start with,” she said. “At least people that are watching will understand if I mess up a few times.”