Ask Jason Hart what makes him most proud about his career and he doesn’t pinpoint a particular moment or race highlight but the fact he has been loyal to the same agent who has booked his rides since the start of his career in 2011.

Loyalty is important to Hart, as is the work ethic instilled in him while growing up in the Scottish Borders town of Hawick.

“When I was champion apprentice in 2013, I think I only rode six winners for my boss Declan Carroll, the rest were for outside stables,” he explains. “My agent Alan Harrison did a great job and I have been with him since I started. He booked me on my second ever ride.

“There have been a couple of agents who have tried to tempt me away, but Alan does a great job. One of the things I am quite proud of is I think I am very loyal.

“You also have to work hard. If you sit on your backside, you are not going to get anywhere. When I was champion apprentice, I was never the best rider but I think hard work has got me to where I am now.”

Those twin pillars that support the career of 29-year-old Hart have propelled his progress through the weighing-room ranks. They were also key in re-establishing career momentum Hart feels was briefly lost when a fall in a pile-up at Doncaster in 2015, shortly after riding out his claim, left him with ruptured ACL and MCL ligaments, keeping him on the sidelines for seven months.

At such a crucial stage his career was stalled just when the jockey was starting to get rides on better horses.

Yet for the last three seasons he has topped 100 winners, with 2023 delivering a full set of personal bests, featuring 111 British winners from 896 rides, which garnered close to £2.2 million in prize-money. For the first time, that return placed him in the top ten in the jockeys’ table.

“I want to be champion jockey”

As Hart focuses on his fourteenth season as a jockey, he is determined to progress even further.

“I want to be champion jockey,” he says emphatically but without a trace of arrogance. “People might laugh and think it is not feasible, but if you don’t think it, it will not happen.

“If you don’t believe in yourself that you can go out there and compete with the likes of Ryan [Moore], William [Buick], Oisin [Murphy] and Tom [Marquand], you might as well not be doing it.

“To be champion it is about working extremely hard. The championship season is a much smaller window now, starting on 2,000 Guineas day and closing on British Champions Day, but if you don’t have ambition or drive you will never get anywhere.”

Hart cites former trainer Eric Alston, who gave him his first black-type winner when Ridge Ranger landed the Listed Kilvington Fillies Stakes at Nottingham in 2016, as being one of the biggest influences on his career, mainly for the confidence he instilled in his riding.

However, given Hart’s philosophy, it is no surprise he also names colleague Joe Fanning, a jockey widely regarded as a model professional, as being another major influence.

Hart has known Fanning since he moved to Mark Johnston’s Middleham stable just before his 16th birthday and the pair still work closely together as riders for the outfit now headed by Johnston’s son Charlie.

Hart says: “He is 53 years old and still driving himself up and down the country. He is a complete gentleman. People could take a leaf out of his book – he is a big influence on me.

“He actually gave me a lift for my first ever ride [on second-placed Elusive Flame at Southwell in February 2011] and walked the track with me. He is someone I have always looked up to. He just gets on and does the job.

“With us both riding for Charlie, we discuss horses and he has always been there for a bit of advice if needed.”

The two riders have something else in common – having to bide their time for their first Group 1 winner. Fanning was into his 28th season when The Last Lion broke his duck in the 2016 Middle Park Stakes.

Hart did not have to wait quite so long for Highfield Princess to come along, but he is now searching for a new flagship horse after the John and Sean Quinn-trained mare, who captured the imagination of racing enthusiasts as she delivered Hart’s four top-level wins, suffered life-ending injuries after an accident in her stable in March.

Hart has ridden some admirable performers for the Quinns – horses like El Astronaute, Liberty Beach and Safe Voyage – but he appreciates that he owes a massive debt to the mare who will be nearly impossible to replace on both a personal and professional level.

The daughter of Night Of Thunder took time to rise through the ranks, her initial runs giving no indication of where she would end up.

She delivered Hart his first Royal Ascot winner in the 2021 Buckingham Palace Stakes before going on to take the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville, York’s Nunthorpe Stakes and the Flying Five at the Curragh in five memorable weeks the following year.

There was also a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland – all the more commendable given the run came at the end of a long campaign for Highfield Princess, which had started with her being prepped for victory at All-Weather Finals Day at Newcastle in April.

I won’t ride a horse with such a following ever again

Last year, there was further Group 1 glory in the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp’s Arc meeting plus a trip to Hong Kong in December where the mare unsuccessfully contested what would prove to be her last race.

Hart says: “I have no doubt I could ride a better horse than her, but I probably won’t ride one who will be as special, one who captured everyone’s imagination with her story.

“I would go racing and was always being asked, ‘How is Highfield Princess?’ I won’t ride a horse with such a following ever again.

“She was Yorkshire’s princess and proof that fairy-tales can happen for owner-breeders. She gave every single owner, no matter who they are, that bit of hope that if you persevere and give horses time, exceptional things can happen.

“Her rise was unbelievable. She always had the pedigree, but she was slow to come to hand in her head as well as her body. It took a long time for the penny to fully drop, but once it did, we saw what she could do.

“I rode her most days. She had a heart of gold and was a quiet, good-looking mare. She would never set the world alight at home.

“She was chilled out and the easiest horse to deal with but once she was in the stalls, she was ready to rock and roll.

“I will forever be indebted to her for the things she did for my career and that of John and Sean. She helped me get on a better class of horse.

“I had had to wait for a first Group 1 win but to then get three in the space of five weeks was unbelievable. It was great to land that first one in France but winning the Nunthorpe at York was a great day. It was on home soil and the reception she got was unbelievable. She took it all in without a bother – you wouldn’t have thought she was a sprinter!

“It was a massive blow when she died, especially the timing. She was back in training and we were looking forward to another good year with her.

“You have to move on, you can’t dwell on it too much, but at the same time it was gutting for everyone. For her owner John Fairley, who would have had a great broodmare on his hands, and John and Sean, especially with Sean having just been added to the licence.”

It puts things into perspective

When Highfield Princess won last season’s Abbaye, the victory capped a memorable week for Hart, with his wife Jess having just given birth to their first child, Harper.

Hart says the arrival of his daughter has brought a sense of perspective to his life, while the fact that Jess had a long career working in racing – not to mention her brother Richie McLernon and uncle Tommy Carmody being jockeys – means she understands the lifestyle he must lead.

Hart adds: “Before Harper was born people said she will change your perspective and I thought ‘yeah, yeah’, but it definitely does.

“For any jockey, trainer or owner things can go wrong in racing. A horse can go lame, or you might not get the rub of the green on the track, but when you go home at the end of the day she is always there smiling. It puts things into perspective. It does change your mindset.

“Jess’s brother rides, her dad is a steward in Ireland and her uncle was one of the best jump jockeys ever in Ireland. It helps that she knows the daily stresses.

“I think it must be hard for a jockey with a partner who doesn’t know why they are getting home at midnight and then getting up at 5am the next morning to go and ride work again.”

Surprising as it seems now, Hart wanted to be a jump jockey when he was younger, riding out at weekends and school holidays for his local trainer Donald Whillans. Hart’s grandfather Derek Campbell had also been a jump jockey.

Ultimately his size, plus the fact that Keith Dalgleish and Greg Fairley had trodden the path from Hawick to the Johnston stable, prompted him to travel the same route.

With Hawick revolving around, in Hart’s words, “racing, rugby and cashmere”, there was a time when the oval ball competed for his attention. He is still an enthusiastic supporter of the national team at Murrayfield.

“I played a lot of rugby as a kid and did a lot of running,” Hart recalls. “My parents would be running around taking me everywhere to play sport.

“I played scrum half but I never grew. I played Borders under 16s, similar to county in England.

“In my age group there was a lad who plays for Edinburgh now called Glen Young, who has had three caps for Scotland and above me and below me were Stuart Hogg, who was older, and Darcy Graham, who was younger, from the town. I knew them growing up.

“Hawick was a great place to grow up, you had a bit of freedom.”

There came a point when Hart had to choose between going on a rugby tour to Wales with his friends or riding in a pony race.

Given he had just applied to join the Johnston yard, Hart, who landed his second Royal Ascot winner on Big Evs in the Windsor Castle Stakes last year, decided to take the ride.

The pony lost, but long-term it has proved to be a very good decision and Hart will carry the life philosophy which has served him so well into the summer.

“I will be trying to find another good horse and hopefully I can ride 100 winners again and try to get a bit further up the table.

“I am not sure I have a Group 1 horse, but you never know what will pop up with a two-year-old. I will just keep grafting.”


“We need a clearly defined break”

Jason Hart believes there should be a clearly defined two-week period free from Flat racing at the end of the Turf season in November so that jockeys can take a break from the relentless nature of the current programme.

This year there is a Flat-free week at the end of November but there is increasing frustration among jockeys at the BHA’s efforts to produce a fixture list which they feel addresses concerns about burn-out among riders.

The frustration deepened during the unpopular Sunday evening racing experiment – the pilot has subsequently been axed – while the BHA’s decision to publicly hail the first of three Flat-free days this season on May 7, three days after the jockeys’ championship season started on 2,000 Guineas day, served only to further annoy riders.

Hart says: “Those days they have given us are neither here nor there. We all ride work in the morning.

“Why the BHA decided to put a one-day break in when the championship had just started beats me. We were three days in and they decided to give us a day off!

“Once the season finishes in November, we need a couple of weeks off. We need a clearly defined break.

“A day is a waste, as was the break they used to give us before the season started. You couldn’t go anywhere; you were getting horses ready for races like the Lincoln and educating two-year-olds.”

He adds: “They are making jockeys burn the candle at both ends. You are up riding work in the morning and they have taken saunas away from us so when you get in from riding, you have to jump in the bath or on a bike, or go for a run to lose weight.

“Then you go racing – you might have another pound to lose so that’s another run around the track. You then get home at God knows what time and then it is the same the next day.”