27th November 2023

Racing Trailblazers: Hayley Turner

A quiet Tuesday night at Chelmsford City racecourse, far removed from the ballyhoo of Royal Ascot, York’s Ebor Meeting, or Chicago’s Arlington Park. But, as it transpired, not just any old Tuesday night, for the hardy crowd that mustered at the Essex venue on 21 November 2023 for a card comprising mostly class 5 and 6 handicaps also witnessed a slice of racing history.

When Hayley Turner won the two-mile Illuminate Christmas Ball Handicap on the David Simcock-trained Tradesman, she became the first British female jockey to ride 1,000 winners. Tradesman was her 979th British winner, to which she could add 21 successes abroad including France, Germany, America and Mauritius.

Having ridden her 998th winner on Tradesman at Chelmsford 33 days earlier, those last two winners proved frustratingly elusive in reaching that milestone. It was, she acknowledged, “a long journey,” one that was 23 years in the making.

Hayley rides Latin Lover to success at Royal Ascot in 2023

She began her racing career by riding out for local trainer Mark Polglase, then attended the Northern Racing College, before becoming apprenticed to Michael Bell at Newmarket. She rode her first winner on her eighth ride in public on Generate, trained by Polglase, in an apprentices’ handicap at Pontefract on 4 June 2000.

That was her sole success of the season and she failed to win one the following year, but from thereon she progressed rapidly, sharing the Champion Apprentice title in 2005 with Saleem Golam, with 44 winners apiece. She rode her 95th winner in September of that year, thereby riding out her claim.

In 2008 Turner recorded her first Group race victory aboard Lady Deauville in the Group 3 Lando-Trophy at Hanover, in Germany. She ended that year by becoming the first British female jockey to ride 100 winners in a calendar year, achieving the feat at Wolverhampton on 30 December.

However, in March 2009, Turner suffered a head injury in a fall on the Newmarket gallops. Informed that, due to the nature of the injury, she would not be granted a licence for twelve months, her season appeared over before it had begun. The trauma of not being able to race-ride weighed heavily on her but, armed with new medical evidence, she successfully appealed the decision, ending the year with 60 winners to her name.

Hayley becomes the first female to land a Group 1, winning the July Cup aboard Dream Ahead.

The following season saw her win the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks on the David Elsworth-trained Barshiba, then in 2011 she made the breakthrough to Group 1 level, landing both Newmarket’s July Cup on Dream Ahead for David Simcock, and the Nunthorpe Stakes at York’s Ebor Meeting on Michael Bell’s three-year-old filly Margot Did.

At Epsom in June 2012, Turner followed Alex Greaves as just the second female jockey to ride in the Derby. She trailed in last of the nine runners on 25-1 outsider Cavaliero that day, but it was a quite different story at Chicago’s Arlington Park two months later when Turner guided Simcock’s five-year-old mare I’m A Dreamer to a thrilling victory by a head in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes.

Again though, just when her career had reached new heights, fate landed her a double blow. She was twice sidelined by injuries in 2013, breaking an ankle in July, then in September damaging her pelvis and three vertebrae in a horrific fall at Doncaster.

She candidly admits that the Doncaster injury affected her confidence and when she returned, probably too soon, she was not riding at her best. Despite registering respectable winning scores of 40 and 44 over the next two seasons, she announced her retirement at the end of 2015, opting to take up a broadcasting role with At The Races. Her services to horse racing, most notably her part in blazing a trail for female jockeys, were recognised when she was awarded an OBE in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Turner was awarded an OBE in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours by the late Queen Elizabeth II

Her retirement wasshort-lived, however, for the decision by France’s racing authorities in 2017 to introduce a 2kg weight allowance for female jockeys tempted her back. Of her sixteen winners that year, ten were gained in France.

Turner returned to riding full-time in Britain in 2018, ending the year with 44 winners. In 2019 she achieved her first Royal Ascot victory in the Sandringham Handicap on 33-1 outsider Thanks Be for Newmarket trainer Charlie Fellowes. In doing so, Turner became only the second woman to win a race at the Royal meeting, 32 years after Gay Kelleway’s Queen Alexandra Stakes success on Sprowston Boy. The following year Turner won the Sandringham again on another Fellowes-trained 33-1 shot, Onassis, going on to land Listed contests at
Chantilly and Goodwood on that same filly later in the season.

Turner’s first Royal Ascot victory came in the Sandringham Handicap on 33-1 outsider Thanks Be for Newmarket trainer Charlie Fellowes

More Royal Ascot success followed in 2022, when Turner won the Palace of Holyroodhouse Stakes on Latin Lover, trained by Harry Eustace. She achieved her fourth Royal Ascot success in 2023 when Docklands, also trained by Eustace, landed the Britannia Stakes. A regular on the women’s team in Ascot’s Shergar Cup competition, Turner has taken part a record sixteen times, twice winning the silver saddle as the event’s leading jockey. She has also been part of the ITV Racing team since its formation in 2017.

It has taken Hayley Turner 23 years to ride 1,000 winners but, by her own admission, it is unlikely to take other top female professionals that long. Hollie Doyle is fast approaching 900 – her first was in 2013 – and is likely, injuries and suspensions permitting, to break through the 1,000-winner barrier in 2024.

The Ladies team of Hayley Turner, Hollie Doyle and Saffie Osborne lift the Shergar Cup in 2023

As Turner reflected: “It’s nice to see the girls behind me that are up and coming, the likes of Hollie, Saffie [Osborne], Nicola Currie, Josephine [Gordon], they’re all riding so well everyday.

“It makes me feel very proud when I think that perhaps I played a very small part in the success of their careers.”