As the first female to ride 100 winners in a season Hayley Turner set a new standard in the sport and helped pave the way for a new generation of jockeys. But to listen to the understated and softly spoken Nottingham native you would be forgiven for underestimating her achievements.
With 764 career wins, including two Group 1 victories, she’s surprisingly modest about her legacy in the sport. “I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated it that much. Now that I’ve stopped riding and I look back I do realise that I did quite well,” she says of her success. And it’s that level of focus that helped her become one of the most iconic names in racing despite a less than straightforward route to the top.
Turner is undoubtedly a fighter. She’s had to battle for her place as one of the all-time legends of the sport and now in retirement she’s taking on a new challenge as a TV presenter where she admits she’s studying racing in more depth than ever before. “I’ll do about three or four hours of form study per meeting. That will start the day before and I’ll do a bit more homework on the day of the meeting. As a jockey, I’d have a quick look the night before and another quick read in the morning – and that’ll be it,” she says with a laugh.
She’s also embarking on a new career as Matchbook ambassador helping to pass on some of her huge knowledge of the sport and help punters get the most value from exchange betting. But more on that in part 2. In the first part of our exclusive interview we spoke to Matchbook’s new racing ambassador about her highs and lows, from winning Group 1 races to dealing with a major injury and how her biggest success came on the back of one of her biggest disappointments.
Did you ever think you would achieve the level of success you had when you first started out?
“No, not at all. I never set my sights stupidly high because I just thought it would be really nice to have a winner. Then when I had a winner I wanted another one, and another…so it was small steps rather than throwing myself into it. I think you get disappointed if you say, ‘I’m going to be champion jockey’ because you’ve set your sights too high and made it lot harder for yourself.”
How tough was it getting your first start in racing? How hard did you have to work to get where you are?
“You have to work very hard but I think working hard is easy when you are doing something you love. If you don’t enjoy your job, working hard is really tough. I worked hard because I was a female jockey but the lads worked equally as hard. You can’t work harder than your best so as long as you put in 100% then that’s all you can do.”
What qualities do you think enabled you to be such a consistent winner? What makes a winner in sport?
I think consistency is the key and not to go into any meetings half heartedly. Also, don’t make a big deal of being on the big stage and just ride a horse at Ascot like you would if you were riding it in a seller at Brighton. As in any sport, consistency is very important.
What was your most memorable win and what was your most memorable loss? What sticks in the mind more?
You could tie these together. I’d won on a horse called Deacon Blues that was heading to the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot and I was thinking to myself, ‘this is going to my Royal Ascot winner’. But I was an apprentice to Michael Bell he said, ‘no, I need you to go to Ayr to ride in a listed race’. So I went to Ayr and when I was in paddock on the horse, I looked up at the big screen and saw Deacon Blues, ridden by Johnny Murtagh, win the Wokingham. But I had a job to do so I got on my horse, Margo Did, and won. But it was a strange feeling having just watched the race from Ascot. Although I’d won I thought that a listed race wasn’t a patch on a Royal Ascot winner and I was a bit gutted. But the next time I rode Margo Did she won the group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York over five furlongs at 20/1.
So is it important not to get too euphoric when you win and not too down when you don’t?
Racing can be so up and down that mind management is very important. Having a winner is like working in an office and you’ve closed a deal. It’s a nice warm glow but you don’t get them every day so you have to keep plugging away. So you need to cherish the good times. But like I said earlier, you don’t realise how well you are doing until you step back from the sport. You think, ‘yeah, I didn’t too badly’.
Any regrets in terms of horses you wish you’d ridden or yards you could have ridden for?
No, I think Michael Bell was very good. I would love to have been first jockey to Sir Michael Stoute but that is never going to happen – it’s quite negative to look back wondering about what could have been. I could have done a million different things but circumstances didn’t make that happen.
You seem to be laid-back and positive about life. Where does that come from?
I just think you need to enjoy yourself. Having money is a big thing for some but you should focus on enjoying life and the small things. My family have always kept me grounded and none of them are into racing. When I go back home it’s quite refreshing because my Dad used to take me to Meadow Lane to watch Notts County and would say, ‘see, it’s not all about winning, Hayley’.
How big a setback was your head injury on the gallops in 2009, which ruled you out for a year?
After I had the fall, it was probably the hardest I have ever worked. However, I came back and realised that I was pulling out of gaps in races when I shouldn’t have and I was making horses more keen because I’d lost my confidence on the track. This went on for about a month so I went away for the winter to work ride for Saeed [bin Suroor] in Dubai, came back and after a couple of weeks I got back into it. But the damage had been done because everyone had seen how I had lost my confidence. My whole profile that I had built up suddenly went right down and I wasn’t getting any good rides.
How did you cope? What turned things around for you?
I rode out for anyone and I went anywhere for a ride. It was a yearlong struggle, and I remember thinking at the time that I wasn’t going to give up on this. Then I started having group winners again, including in Japan, and it a was relief. People realised that I was back, but that’s when I decided to do something different.
You’re retired now, what do you miss most about the sport? How involved are you still and how close do you remain to the scene and your old stable?
I miss the banter of the weighing room but I do get a few digs off Jason Weaver and Luke Harvey now we are doing TV work together.
How did you prepare for a race as a jockey in terms of analysing the competition and how do you analyse a race?
It’s completely different now. I look at the form in detail for every single horse in the race. I’ve learnt a lot doing the TV work and it’s made me think that maybe I should have done more form study as a jockey. But sometimes it’s impossible when you’re a jockey. As a presenter, I’ll do about three or four hours of form study per meeting. That will start the day before and I’ll do a bit more homework on the day of the meeting. As a jockey, I’d have a quick look the night before and another quick read in the morning – and that’ll be it.
Outside of TV you’re going to be working a lot more with Matchbook, can you tell us a bit about what you will be up to in the coming months?
My main focus is trying to encourage people to bet on horse racing using an exchange and educate people about Matchbook and how exchanges work. I’m hoping that I can explain about Matchbook and the advantage of being able to back and lay and find great value.
Continue reading part 2 of our exclusive interview with Hayley and read about her thoughts on the jockeys, horses and strategies that will help you win this flat season.