‘If you push hard enough you can achieve anything’
Hollie Doyle’s strong drive has put her first century of wins in sight, writes Marcus Armytage
Hollie Doyle is just seven winners short of becoming the third female Flat jockey to ride 100 winners in a calendar year, and today she has the chance of becoming the first to ride a winner on Qipco British Champions Day, when she partners the mud-loving Glen Shiel in the Balmoral Handicap.
Given that she rides for the prolific Archie Watson, she should join Hayley Turner and Josephine Gordon in the 100 club and, with two months left, Gordon’s record of 106 winners is in her sights.
If Cieren Fallon, the champion apprentice, has astounded people by having sat on a horse for the first time only two years ago, Doyle’s upbringing was more traditional. Her parents both rode in races and she was in the same Herefordshire pony club, albeit not at the same time, as four-time jumps champion Richard Johnson.
“I didn’t have spectacular ponies, I had naughty, moderate ones but they taught me to ride,” she recalls. “When I rode in my first pony race, aged nine, I knew that I was in training to be a jockey. I only rode four or five winners because the pony wasn’t good enough but it made me ultracompetitive and I was always in a hurry, expecting too much, when things just don’t happen that quickly. The day after my GCSES, I packed my bags and joined David Evans, who I had worked for at weekends.”
In May 2013, she had her first ride under rules as an amateur on The Mongoose at Salisbury. Though 5ft and 8st now, then she was “6st, about 4ft tall and couldn’t carry the 3½st of lead” in her saddle. Much to everyone’s surprise, The Mongoose won by half a length. “Pulling up, it was so emotional,” she says. “I couldn’t talk and I remember crying.”
Abergavenny-based Evans is something of a maverick but he gave Doyle a perfect grounding. “If I’d walked straight into Lambourn or Newmarket, it would have been too easy. After two years with Dave, nowhere felt like hard work.”
Her next move was to Richard Hannon, but, before she went, she spent two months at Santa Anita in California. “That opened my eyes,” she explains. “Apart from one skiing holiday, I’d barely left Herefordshire, so Los Angeles was a bit of a shock. But I’d got to the stage at Dave’s where I was not improving and I lacked belief in myself. At Hannon’s though, I was riding good horses for the best
‘I don’t think girls are disadvantaged, if you have that attitude you should not be riding’
trainer and I knew if it didn’t work it would be because I was no good. I reckoned if I worked my butt off it would work out so I went in all guns blazing.”
Richard Hannon Snr owned a few horses and put Doyle up. “If it wasn’t for him, I might not have got going,” she reflects. “But it gave me a great platform, I began riding the good horses in their work, I got an agent, started to pick up rides and began to improve. I was a bit of a slow burner, but it was still too slow for me. I’m never satisfied.”
Every year, Hannon produces good apprentices. “But it’s up to you to push on to the next level,” she points out. “When Hayley Turner retired [initially], she advised me to use her agent, Guy Jewell, and, almost overnight, my rides trebled.
“I started riding out for Archie Watson. Once a week became twice and eventually he asked if I’d come in four times a week. I had to sit back and assess it but it was a bit of a no-brainer.
“Richard [Hannon] has Tom [Marquand, her boyfriend], Sean Levey, Pat Dobbs and Rossa Ryan. I thought ‘How often am I going to pop into their brain at declaration time?’ I didn’t want to be the last choice. But I still love riding out there.”
Doyle concedes racing is still a bit old fashioned in many ways but female jockeys are no longer alone in their own changing room. “When I was growing up, it was, pretty much Hayley Turner and Cathy Gannon. I was fixated on them. But now it’s going the right way, there are way more girls coming on stream.
“I don’t think we’re at any disadvantage. If you go in with the attitude that girls are disadvantaged you probably shouldn’t be in it. Hayley, Jose [Gordon], Nicola [Currie], Cathy – they’ve proven that, tactically, they are good enough if not better than the men and the physical equal. If you push yourself far enough you can achieve anything.”
Doyle regularly finds herself up against Marquand. “We’ve known each other since we were 15,” she says. “We both want the same thing. When I’m riding, I block out, 100 per cent, the fact that he’s my boyfriend.”
Only big races have eluded Doyle. Today would be a good start but when jockeys are booting home 100 winners a year it is usually only a matter of time before the good horses and Group races start rolling in. But you get the feeling that only when that happens will Doyle’s world be spinning at the speed she wants.
Fast track: Hollie Doyle adds to her winning tally last month at Bath