Your career is in its infancy but you have already won two big handicap hurdles and ridden in Grade 1 races. What targets have you set yourself this season?
I had a dream first season and I can’t really expect that to happen again, though, of course, I hope it does. Really it’s less about winners and more about getting outside rides and creating more contacts with trainers as I try to establish myself.
How tough is the winter game and do you prefer hurdling or chasing?
I work full-time at the yard, 13 days out of every 14, mucking out and riding out. So you are regularly tired and wet, grafting away, hoping as a conditional it will all turn into some rides. By contrast, riding in a race is relatively simple. You’re out on the course for only ten minutes for each ride and quickly find yourself in the zone. You might be wet, you might be cold, but you don’t notice those things because you’re concentrating.
I love chasing, which is quite funny because I don’t get that many rides over fences. I was a point-to-point rider for five seasons and that’s where I learnt my trade, so I get very excited whenever I have a chase ride. I honestly feel I am a better chase jockey than I am over hurdles. My own experience tells me that the stride lengths are different over hurdles and fences. But really, at the end of the day, it amounts to the same thing, steering them safely over to the landing side.
In your view, what are your biggest strengths – and in what areas do you need to improve?
I am a very positive rider over an obstacle and always try to gauge what the horse’s best attributes are. So if I know I have a good jumper under me I’ll make sure the horse has enough space around it to actually make ground in the air. Other than that, I try to get the pace right and generally feel I am a good judge of pace. But, having said that, I need to improve everything.
When you are competing at this level all aspects of your riding have to keep getting better. I would love to be tidier in a finish and hopefully that should come with more experience; as much as you practise on an equiciser there’s no substitute for the real thing.
If you’re stuck between Dickie Johnson and Tom Scudamore going to the last you want to look as good as them and ride as good a race as they do.
One thing those wins did was concrete my self-confidence; I now know I can compete on big days under a lot of pressure against the top jockeys
Were you disappointed that your high-profile wins on Aubusson in a Haydock Grade 3 and Tea For Two in the Lanzarote Hurdle last season did not produce more outside rides?
Yes, hugely disappointed. When you are starting up people say to you, ‘Get a couple of good winners and you’ll be on your way’. Well, I got them and it didn’t really happen. I suppose you could say it did get me a job at Neil King’s, and I’d also like to think, thanks to Aubusson and Tea For Two, that when it comes to ladies’ races I’d always have a ride.
One thing they did was concrete my self-confidence; I now know I can compete on big days under a lot of pressure against the top jockeys and pull it off. My confidence after those two wins was sky high. It was a great feeling and it’s nice to know I’ve got those two big races on the board.
The weighing room is known for its unique atmosphere and camaraderie among jockeys – but what is it like for a woman?
I always make a point of not sitting in the girls’ changing room on my own. So I tend to hang around with the men and it’s great because they will always chat to you and there are regular friends who will talk things over with you. Some people might get a bit confused when you are walking around wrapped in a towel trying to wash your gear after a race. There might be a couple of comments and a bit of banter, but that’s what makes the place.
To start with it’s a bit like going to a new school, all a bit frightening but you’ve got to get into it. At the end of the day we’re all doing the same thing, riding a winner, taking a fall, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy or a girl. In a funny sort of way the only person that worries about a girl being in the weighing room is me. But the men really couldn’t care less.
The weighing room is full of little groups of friends, who then all get on as one bigger group. I have my own friends in there and I do feel part of it. The valets are always very welcoming and I’ve never had a problem with anyone. The media love the fact you’re a girl but once you’re inside you’re no different to anyone else.
In her day Lorna Vincent led the way for women and Lucy Alexander is currently the most successful lady rider in Britain, with Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry leading the charge in Ireland. Are they an inspiration and do you think your career could inspire a new generation of female jockeys?
When I grew up I wanted to be the best female jockey ever. When I used to watch those girls, especially Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry, they were an inspiration, but also a target. Watching them on TV I would say to myself, ‘I want to be better than you’. It was a very competitive way of looking at it; they were doing what I wanted to do and doing it really well.
I was convincing myself I would be like them, only better. I’d like to think what I am doing will encourage girls who are point-to-pointing or just riding as amateurs to take the next step and turn professional. There are plenty of brilliant women point-to-point riders out there and if I can do it, so can they.
Michelle Payne has lifted the profile of women riders to a new level, but whether it will result in getting more rides – probably not
What was your reaction to Michelle Payne becoming the first woman to ride the winner of last month’s Melbourne Cup on 100-1 chance Prince Of Penzance?
Incredible! What a race to win putting her on the front pages of newspapers around the world. It’s the same as a girl winning the Grand National, or maybe even bigger. It has lifted the profile of women riders to a new level, but whether it will result in getting any more rides – probably not. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has no effect in the long term.
Michelle Payne described racing as a chauvinistic sport. In your view, is it?
No jockey has ever told me, ‘You’re not strong enough, you’re not good enough’. Never any remarks based on the fact that I’m a girl. But I do think there is a deep-rooted feeling among some in the sport that girls should not be race-riding. Statistically, you only need to look at the numbers: how many seriously good female jockeys have there been? Not a lot.
Looking around the weighing room, I know I am better than some and worse than others. I am sure there are some trainers who don’t want to use Lizzie Kelly, not because they don’t like her riding but because she’s a woman.
Due to the lack of female representation you will always attract media coverage with a big- race ride. Are you happy in front of the cameras and do you see it as your job to speak out?
I have always been very open and have studied marketing at university and appreciate a woman rider being interviewed is beneficial to the sport. I enjoy doing it, though it hasn’t helped me as far as extra rides are concerned.
I don’t see it as part of my job to speak out on behalf of women because they have got to get up off their arse and do it for themselves, as I have done. All right, I haven’t made it. But I’ve got this far after being brought up with people telling me I’d never make it and I used that negativity as my fuel. That was the spur I needed and I have had to work bloody hard to get as far as I have. I pitched up at Henrietta Knight’s when I was 14, having organised the whole thing myself and not even telling my parents.
I was obsessed with AP McCoy. He was awesome, like a living myth. He was this man who could take falls, get the weight off, ride winners
Who or what inspired you to become a professional jockey and have you ever considered an alternative career?
AP McCoy. I was obsessed with him. He was awesome, like a living myth. He was this man who could take falls, get the weight off, ride winners. He was so strong, like the Iron Man. He was everything I want to be. I loved the idea of marketing racing as a sport, like Great British Racing. And with my events management degree from university that door might still be open in a few years time. Yes, I do love doing marketing; it’s fascinating and promotes our sport.
What does a young woman have to sacrifice in order to concentrate on a jockey’s life?
Sometimes I worry that wasting to do a certain weight can have a negative effect on female health, especially later in life. It can cause problems possibly with childbirth and one or two other things but luckily I don’t have to lose weight too often. I can do 9st 9lb with a couple of days notice. We all have to make sacrifices, like missing out on a Saturday night party if you are riding on the Sunday. But, frankly, I’d rather have the ride on the Sunday than go to a party.
Your mother is married to Devon trainer Nick Williams and is very involved in the training game. In what ways has she been a help and support to you?
In every way. She’s great. If it wasn’t for Mum we wouldn’t be doing this interview; she has given me everything. She always says I’ve earned it because we never had any stable staff and from the age of 11 I did all the work, mucking out and schooling.
My parents were accountants and Mum is the perfect person to talk to about lots of things on and off the horse.
What made you move from your stepfather Nick Williams’s stable to ride as conditional jockey to Neil King in Wiltshire?
I wanted to be able to say I had a job on the strength of my own riding. It is hugely important to me that people can’t say I get rides only because I ride for my parents. I went to Neil King and told him I wanted a job, which he gave me, and those rides I’ve got off the back of my own riding. It’s nothing to do with my parents and that means a hell of a lot to me.
You are still taking plenty of rides for Nick Williams. Does the fact that you know the horses so well – and understand the trainer’s methods – give you an advantage in a race over other, perhaps stronger riders?
We are all on the same wavelength and understand each other. After all, we are family and have all done the same things together for the last ten years. And that’s important if things go wrong in a race. I can go down to the start and change riding instructions as long as I’ve got a good reason. If it all starts to go wrong during a race I know what my parents would want me to do. I know their training regime and I know the horses.
AP McCoy suggested female riders should receive a weight allowance when riding. What changes would you like to see to encourage more women jockeys?
A valuable ladies’ race would be a clever idea, particularly if it climaxed a series of ladies’ races. There could be appearance points for girls riding in the races. Of course there would be bonus points for first, second and third throughout the series. I am sure races along these lines would create a lot of interest and of course opportunities for girls.
Do you pursue a rigorous fitness regime and is your weight easily controlled?
When the season kicks off I am out running two or three times a week; I work full-time mucking out in the morning, then ride four or five lots – that gets you very fit. Once you’re actually racing you keep pretty fit. I have to be very disciplined with my lifestyle and diet. Basically, you can’t be stupid like drinking several cans of coke and eating a burger. I just have to observe a balance in what I do and what I eat.
You have a degree in Events Management and have written a thesis on marketing racing aimed at 18-25 year-olds. How do you envisage attracting young people to our sport?
I’ve never really been able to figure it out in any great detail. But I do know that it is cool to go racing and a lot of the younger generation enjoy the day out, but racecourses need to give them a bit more and make them feel welcome and wanted. Perhaps by way of more 18-25 year-old clubs, like they have at Cheltenham.
Racegoers can easily be stuck at the end of a queue for a £7 burger, which tastes terrible, with no proper facilities. Perhaps better facilities for younger racegoers in the shape of their own on-course club, where they would be able to meet some of racing’s celebrities.
Can you name a couple of horses you are looking forward to riding this winter?
There is a nice little horse I love riding called After Eight Sivola, who will be hurdling, and of course Aubusson and Tea For Two. Aubusson ran an absolute blinder at Auteuil last month to be beaten a nose by Thousand Stars [in the Grade 1 Grand Prix d’Automne]. Unfortunately Ruby Walsh got the better of me by a nose, but I’ll try not to let it happen again!
Aubusson has always been my number one favourite horse and it’s so exciting to be the person on top in races like that. He has to be fresh and we’ll be taking our time with him. He may even go chasing.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I’d like to be riding for a big, successful stable.