(Jockey Sophie Doyle / Photo Courtesy of Churchill Downs)
(Sophie Doyle and Street Band / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
From the Fair Grounds Media Team:
It’s been a mix of successes, obstacles and setbacks, but one thing is certain, the 2019-2020 racing season has been one of enlightenment for the ladies of the Fair Grounds jock’s room.
They each have unique backgrounds and are at different stages of their careers, but when it comes to the spirited competition they live every day, Sophie Doyle, Chantal Sutherland, Erica Murray and Aubrie Green are each other’s greatest supporters.
“I feel like sometimes women can get a little bit catty and I think it is better off to be happy and positive,” Doyle said. “Coming into this meet, I was determined to transform the (ladies) jock’s room into a place full of warmth and good, positive energy.”
According to Doyle, their home away from home was painted and decorated. The pink lights cool the energy and meditation music relaxes the environment. When they’re not riding, the female jockeys often do yoga, exercise, and work on their fitness.
“It’s homey and comfortable and I think the atmosphere and the mindset has helped all of us go out there and ride really well,” Doyle added. “We are having a great time in the room and rooting for each other to do well. If you’re having a bad day, we pick each other up. We turn the page and go back out there with a clear head and the right frame of mind.”
Winless from just two mounts here last season, Erica Murray is Fair Grounds’ leading lady with 15 victories this season and she’s in the midst of the best run of her six-year career.
“It is so awesome,” Murray said. “It is so nice to ride with women who support each other. I grew up idolizing Sophie and Chantel, so being able to ride with them is amazing. I know Aubrie (injured) isn’t riding here right now, but we still support each other in every way. It has been such a tightknit room. We all give advice and root for each other. It is very uplifting.”
Injured on January 5 when her mount Stang’s Galaxy flipped in the gate and was scratched, Green was forced to undergo surgery to repair ligament damage in her left ankle.
“When the horse flipped and pinned my ankle, she actually tore a major ligament that holds the tendons in place,” Green explained. “Because of that, my tendons were dislocating.”
Prior to the injury, Green had five Fair Grounds wins at the current stand, including a memorable score aboard 8-1 shot Pound for Pound in the Louisiana Champions Day Classic. She hopes to get back on horses in mid to late April.
“I haven’t been in the room for a couple weeks, but I walk in today and you can just feel the love,” Green said. The camaraderie is great. We all support each other, and are genuinely happy when one of us wins instead of being jealous or mad. Usually when you have a group of girls together you have a lot of cattiness and jealousy. This meet we decided we weren’t going to be like that. We wanted to try to support each other and build each other up. It’s changed the dynamic of our whole meet.”
With 1,007 career wins, 22 graded stakes scores, and a trio of grade one triumphs aboard Game On Dude, Sutherland is easily the most accomplished of the Fair Grounds’ female riders, but most of those successes came earlier in her career in her native Toronto and in Southern California.
She’s been a TV star and featured in magazines, but since moving her tack to Fair Grounds and Kentucky, Sutherland is pressing the reset button, to an extent. A crafty ride aboard She’sonthewarpath put her into the winner’s circle following the Albert M. Stall Memorial Stakes less than two weeks ago, and she’s is enjoying this stage of the career journey with Sophie, Erica and Aubrie.
“I’m really happy how we have all bonded and supported each other,” Sutherland said. “I think Fair Grounds has done a great job re-painting the room, giving us really nice TVs and great sofas. It is just a really nice place to live in. We are here so often, so we are all really grateful for that. We are just like sisters!”
Born in England, Doyle comes from a racing family. Her mother Jacqueline is a former trainer and brother James is an accomplished European jockey. She enjoyed success as an apprentice rider back home before crossing the pond into the United States, where she has won 289 races. Last year she won trio of graded stakes with Street Band – the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), the Indiana Oaks (G3) at Indiana Grand and the Cotillion (G1) at Parx. The Cotillion marked the first grade one victory of her career.
This week, Doyle will embark on what she hopes will be another fruitful adventure, as she travels to Saudi Arabia to compete against 13 of the best riders in the world, both male and female, in Friday’s International Jockeys Challenge.
“Ten years ago, we (female jockeys) couldn’t go and race there,” Doyle said of Saudi Arabia. “I’m curious to see just how different it is now.”
In the past, some Saudi women have been treated differently. They couldn’t wear clothes or make-up that show off their beauty. Public transportation, parks, beaches and amusement parks were segregated in most parts of the country. In 2015, Saudi Arabia proposed hosting the Olympic Games, but only if the events for women were eliminated.
Yet, Times are changing. In 2017, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi state schools announced offering physical education classes to both boys and girls and they began allowing men and women to attend sporting events. The following year, a royal decree granted women the right to drive vehicles.
“Even though they are allowed to drive now, they still have to have a man present in the car with them,” Doyle said. “I went to Aman one year to get my Visa one year and the woman told me they weren’t allowed to drive cars and that they had never seen it. We took the car off road and I drove them all around this back village. They all had faces of disbelief. Driving a car is just one of many freedoms we take for granted.”
“I think the Jockey Challenge will continue to help make a difference in the way women are viewed and treated,” Doyle continued. “I think it’s great that they are trying to horse racing to showcase women competing against men. It’s a display of respect for women, and it shows a belief that we do know what we are doing out there (on the track). It will be so refreshing for the women of Saudi Arabia to be able to come to the races and experience us competing against the men. They probably haven’t seen anything like it, and we want them to feel a sense of pride right along with us.”
Fourteen riders will compete in four races, with the winner taking home $30,000. Doyle will be up against some top riders from all over the world, including Mike Smith, Frankie Dettori, Yutaka Take, Olivier Peslier and Emma-Jayne Wilson.
“I am really excited for Sophie,’ Green said. “It and it is an opportunity that I think we all would love. We are all so proud of her, it makes me want to cry.”
“I think it is so amazing,” Murray said. “She is such a good representative for the Fair Grounds jockey colony and women riders.”
“It is super exciting,” Sutherland said. “I am so happy for her. I think it is a great opportunity. I hope she does really well. She is a wonderful person to represent the United States.”
According to the press release promoting the event, the International Jockey Challenge “reflects the values of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which lays out a program of targets for diversification and increased sporting participation among Saudi’s young people.”
On a larger scale, Vision 2030 is a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.
Doyle, who has spent some time in both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, departed Tuesday night with the hopes of riding Thursday at Meydan in advance of Friday’s event in Saudi Arabia. She’s looking very forward to the competition, but also to having her voice heard.
“You always want to try to support other women and try to help them, not just in your own country, but around the world,” Doyle said.
You can follow the journey and successes of the female riders at the Fair Grounds on Twitter via their personal accounts @sophiedoyle77, @jockeychantal, @EricaAmazing and @jockeygreen and the hashtag #fgbellariders.
“Hopefully maybe other female jockeys around America will follow our example and create a bella hash-tag unique to their racetrack,” Doyle said. “Horse racing is the only sport where women compete directly against men. We face an uphill battle in the States and even more so around the world. By showing the support we have for each other in the Fair Grounds’ ladies jock’s room, I hope we set a good example for others and can continue to raise awareness.”