In­ter­view ‘I want to prove my 100 win­ners last year was no fluke’

Hol­lie Doyle is de­ter­mined to fight against in­sti­tu­tional sexism in Flat rac­ing to push her ca­reer to the max­i­mum

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Racing - By Oliver Brown Hol­lie Doyle is sixth in the 2020 Flat Jock­eys’ Cham­pi­onship. To find out more, visit greatbri­tishrac­ing.com

It is quite the feat, reach­ing 50 win­ners in a Flat sea­son faster than any fe­male jockey be­fore you, al­though Hol­lie Doyle claims barely to have no­ticed. “I didn’t even know un­til you said that,” she laughs.

For all that the rac­ing in­dus­try seeks to trum­pet her as an in­spi­ra­tion for young sportswome­n, the 23-year-old is grow­ing weary of be­ing per­ceived through the prism of her gen­der. “I just see my­self as a jockey, not as a fe­male jockey. I can un­der­stand why it’s em­pha­sised, be­cause they’re try­ing to get the mes­sage out that it’s pos­si­ble for women. At the same time, it can be pretty tir­ing for some of us who are do­ing it ev­ery day.”

With vic­tory by a short head aboard Good Im­pres­sion at Bath this week, Doyle recorded a half-cen­tury of win­ners in the 2020 cham­pi­onship 41 days quicker than she man­aged last year. A few hours later, at Cat­t­er­ick, she chalked up her 51st by 10 lengths. There is a re­morse­less­ness about Doyle, a de­ter­mi­na­tion never to be sat­is­fied. “Peo­ple made a big deal of it when I rode 100 win­ners last year, sug­gest­ing it was a one-off, but I just want to do it again, prove to them that it’s not. It’s hard enough get­ting up where you want to be, but stay­ing there is a dif­fer­ent thing. In rac­ing, you can be for­got­ten about very quickly.”

Doyle is un­likely to be a fleet­ing sen­sa­tion. She is a pow­er­ful agent of change in one of the few sports where men and women can com­pete as equals. Since 2015, there has been a 79 per cent in­crease in win­ners achieved by women, a trend that only be­comes more pro­nounced as Doyle bears down on her own sea­son record of 116, set last year. One of her idols, she says without hes­i­ta­tion, is Rachael Black­more, who de­clared at Chel­tenham last year that the con­ver­sa­tion about the qual­ity of fe­male jock­eys was over.

“Things have ad­vanced rapidly,” Doyle ar­gues. “When I started out, there would be maybe two other girls in the weigh­ing room. Now there are usu­ally five or six each day. With Josie Gor­don be­ing cham­pion ap­pren­tice, and Hay­ley Turner rid­ing Group One win­ners, it shows that it can be done.

“If you have the right work ethic and men­tal at­ti­tude, any­thing’s pos­si­ble.”

Still, some an­te­s­port. dilu­vian el­e­ments re­main. Gemma Tutty, with more than 700 rides to her name, has high­lighted how there are train­ers who still refuse “point blank” to use fe­male jock­eys. “I’ve heard the odd snide com­ment,” Doyle says. “But I never thought, ‘Oh, this is go­ing to hold me back, I might not do well.’ That has never been a worry of mine. There’s still a hand­ful who do doubt women within the in­dus­try. A lot of se­nior peo­ple think dif­fer­ently about it, I reckon. But they’re not go­ing to be around for­ever.”

Just as she has bull­dozed the bar­ri­ers of in­sti­tu­tional sexism, Doyle has shaken off the mem­ory of a po­ten­tially ca­reer-threat­en­ing in­jury. At Hay­dock in 2018, she was thrown off her mount, Snoop, and kicked un­der the chin, los­ing sev­eral teeth and re­quir­ing com­plex fa­cial surgery. It fits with her ob­du­rate na­ture that she por­trays the ex­pe­ri­ence as no more trau­matic than graz­ing a knee.

“I haven’t looked back since,” she shrugs. “I had a few side-ef­fects for quite a long time af­ter­wards, but I’ve never felt scared about it hap­pen­ing again. I just think it’s part of the job, as bad as that sounds.”

Doyle ra­tio­nalises any phys­i­cal dam­age with the knowl­edge that she was born to ride. Her fa­ther Mark was a jockey un­til his weight stopped him, while her mother, Caro­line, also rode on the Flat, a back­ground that suited her to the sad­dle. She de­tested her stud­ies with such a pas­sion that the day af­ter her GCSEs, she packed her bags to work with David Evans’s horses in Wales.

“That was al­ways the plan,” she re­flects. “The only thing I loved was Be­ing com­pet­i­tive in that arena was my only in­ter­est.”

Her wish was granted when, at the in­sti­ga­tion of Kieren Fal­lon, she had the chance to com­plete a win­ter’s track work in Santa Anita, Cal­i­for­nia, an ex­pe­ri­ence that con­vinced her she could move her ca­reer out of sec­ond gear.

“I was born and bred in Here­ford­shire, then I worked in Aber­gavenny, so I was pretty much brought up in the mid­dle of nowhere. I wasn’t very street­wise. I also knew I wasn’t im­prov­ing at the rate I should have been. So, end­ing up in the mid­dle of Los An­ge­les on my own was a bit of a cul­ture shock. But it also made me re­alise there was a life out­side Bri­tain.”

Af­ter the frus­tra­tions of lock­down, she has no com­plaint about her itin­er­ant ex­is­tence to­day, or its lim­it­ing ef­fect on her re­la­tion­ship with boyfriend Tom Mar­quand, a fel­low jockey and oc­ca­sional ri­val.

“I’ll never be the fin­ished ar­ti­cle,” she de­clares, as she looks rest­lessly for the next win­ner, the next record to take down.

Rac­ing cou­ple: Hol­lie Doyle and her boyfriend, fel­low jockey Tom Mar­quand, en­joy a rare chance to re­lax to­gether and (be­low) in full flow

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