SUNDAY TIMES 10TH JULY
To paraphrase: one small shake of a woman’s wrist, one great leap for womankind. O.K, it was only a horse race, but as Hayley Turner drove Dream Ahead past the Darley July Cup winning post to become the first female jockey to win a Group One event in Britain outright, there was a real sense of a breakthrough on the turf.
The still existing prejudice against women jockeys was blown to the ends of Offa’s Dyke as Hayley coolly weaved the massive Dream Ahead through this fast travelling sprint to knife ahead in the final 100 metres. It was nothing like as brutal as Boadicea and her chariots but one thinks that Charles II would have smiled as he looked down on the heathland where his attraction to horse racing (as well as the opposite sex) started this whole glorious and now globe galloping absurdity in the first place.
The breakthrough was most immediately for Hayley; it was 11 years ago that a 17 year old Ms Turner won her first race at Pontefract and while she became champion apprentice in 2005, and rode a 100 winners in 2008, a serious head injury in 2009 checked her progress and until you ride a winner in the highest class, plenty will still doubt if you belong there. They won’t be doubting now.
But don’t let’s duck the gender question. Part of the reason for those queries was the old thought that female jockeys were into Doctor Johnson’s comparison of a woman preaching to a dog walking on its hind legs – “not that she does it well but that she does it at all”. Even though Alex Greaves won the Group One Nunthorpe Stakes in 1997 it was a dead heat and was not followed by any increase in female participation at the highest level. Now it will be and the huge ovation that was given to Hayley’s winning smile shows how much the crowd will appreciate it.
It is indeed a lovely smile and stayed there as in interview after interview she passed on the praise to the magnificent power with which Dream Ahead had clinched the race in the last 100 yards and to the support of owner Khalif Dasmal and trainer David Simcock. “I only found out I was riding him two days ago,” she said.” Trainers had been complaining that there were too many meetings today (regular jockey William Buick was re-routed to York) but I wasn’t complaining. I had not sat on the horse before so can’t take much credit for the win so have to thank David and the owner for putting me up.”
She has no need of false modesty because the abiding memory of this July Cup was of the classiness of the victory from both horse and rider. An internationally contested Group One sprint like this is no place for the faint hearted but Hayley was coolness personified as she dropped Dream Ahead in along the rail behind the pacemaking Libranno with the star Australian sprinter Star Witness up in the van on his last public appearance. Time was when Hayley would have looked a bit of pea on a drum aboard as massive a beast as Dream Ahead and might have been in a bit of a hurry to push her way out. Not nowadays.
With 300 metres to go a gap came but closed on her, swiftly and smoothly she angled out around the now flying Bated Breath. The post was coming quickly but there was always confidence that the big stride beneath her would cut down the leader and she had slid him more than half a length ahead on the line. Only then did we see what it meant. It was just that but sharp punch of the wrist not the “stand in the stirrups” Derby histrionics of Mikael Barzalona, but girl, did it matter.
Of course the horse is always the major part of any racing partnership and David Simcock deserves tremendous praise for the way he has brought Dream Ahead back to the form which earned him a rating alongside Frankel as top two year old last season. Many had considered the colt overrated and a fifth to Frankel on his return hardly enhanced his reputation. But here he was back in distance with every chance of ruling the sprint division. David only started training in 2004 and Dream Ahead’s Prix Morny winner at Deaville last August was his own first Group One success. But he and his wife have a modern team that are going places. There are many more to come.
Yet the day, which she had begun by tweeting that she was putting her washing out to bring rain to help Dream Ahead’s chances, belonged to Hayley. She is on the way to being a top rider but showed she is no brute faced amazon as she said, “afterwards I will do all the giddy girly things but on a horse I keep a focus. I ride against these guys thousands of times. This is what I do.”
Three races later she was in the winners’ circle on another horse. It was called Overpowered. She won’t be now.