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
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