The toughest woman in sport
She's lost teeth and blacked out, but nothing will stop jockey Hollie Doyle getting back in the saddle. Muddy talks to racing's pocket rocket in the run up Ladies Night at Windsor Racecourse.
Don’t be fooled by the package, jockey Hollie Doyle is petite and blonde, but hard as nails. Last year, her teeth were knocked out when she fell from her horse, she’s suffered concussion and a seizure, and yet she was back racing 10 days later. She works a seven day week, takes one week’s holiday a year, with a smile on her face and without complaint. I’m wincing just thinking about it, but Hollie is one determined lady. At just 22, she’s one of the best and most exciting females jockeys riding right now, with impressive winner stats for Lambourn-based trainer Archie Watson and Marlborough-based trainer Richard Hannon. In the run up to Ladies Night at Windsor Racecourse and Royal Ascot, Hollie chats to Muddy about life in and out of the saddle.
How long have you been a jockey?
Six years. The youngest you can ride is 16, I’m 22 now. As soon as I was old enough to ride, I started my career. I grew up surrounded by racehorses in Hereford, Dad was a jockey and had point-to-point horses. Mum raced on the flat. So, as soon as I could I started pony racing and it went from there.
Did your parents want you to become a jockey?
To be honest, they just let me get on with it.
If you weren’t a jockey, what was Plan B?
There was no Plan B. I always wanted to be a jockey and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.
What’s an average day for you?
Busy. I get up at 5am every day to be in the yard for 6am. I live 45 minutes away. I ride out every day, then drive to the racecourse and sometimes the last race can be as late as 9pm. I’m self-employed and pretty much work seven days a week. I usually take a week off in November and go away.
When we spoke Hollie was bombing up the motorway to Haydock – a mere three-hour drive.
What’s the hardest thing about the job?
Definitely the driving. It’s part of the job but you spend hours and hours in the car. The late nights are tough too.
It looks pretty dangerous, have you been seriously injured?
Last year was the worst. I fell during a race and was kicked under my jaw, knocking out most of my teeth. When I came round, I accidentally swallowed them. I underwent £8,000 worth of private dentistry at jockey Sam Waley Cohen’s Portman Dental Care, where they X-rayed my jaw, removed three or four roots and fitted with me with dentures, before putting in the caps. A year later and I am still having work done.
I’ve also broken a few bones and suffered a number of head injuries. I had a bad fall, got knocked and ended up having a seizure. You get stood down for two weeks and have to pass a concussion test before you’re cleared to ride again. It’s all part of the job. You just get on with it.
Horse racing seems to a sport where women are treated as equals, is that your experience?
These days it’s pretty equal. I’ve never really felt like I was less privileged or disadvantaged being a female jockey. There’s always banter in the weighing room, but it’s really no big deal.
There seem to be more female jockeys coming through now, why do you think it has taken so long?
When I first started the two biggest names were Cathy Gannon and Hayley Taylor. But in the last five years, there are 10 or more female jockeys that are doing really well. We have a strong work ethic and are now getting a lot more recognition. There just isn’t that divide in ability any more. You can watch a race and there would be nothing to tell you whether it was a man or a woman riding the horse, and that’s a good thing at the end of the day.
What’s the dream?
To keep riding winners and being offered great horses, like Billisden Bess and Gorgeous Noora.
Riding the winner in the Shergar Cup at Ascot last year.
The injuries have been a low point.
We’re G&T kinda gals at Muddy HQ, what’s your tipple?
I don’t drink. When I get ay time off all want to do is grab a takeaway and have a nice cuppa.
Sensible. We wouldn’t want you to drink and ride.
Do you choose a salad over the burger and chips?
I’m so lucky. I don’t have to worry about it at all. I’m only 5ft so I can pretty much eat whatever I want. I’ve never had to sweat, or think about calorie intake, like many jockeys. Give me a steak and I’m happy.
And relaaaax… what do you do?
I usually go to the gym and then chill out at home. God, it sounds so boring. But I’m too tired to do anything else.
What you’re fave hangout?
I like eating out, usually at my local pub, and I enjoy shopping too.
Riding boot off, stilettos on?
There aren’t many opportunities to get dressed up, so you won’t often see me in heels.
What will get you shimmying on the dance floor…
It’s got to be a bit of Florence & the Machine or Eminem.
Any top tips for Windsor’s Ladies Night? Wink wink.
It’s too early to tell, but I hope to see you there.
Keep your eyes peeled for Hollie at the ultimate girls’ night out at Ladies Night feat Artful Dodger at Windsor Racecourse, Mon 17 Jun