Josephine Gordon: 'Woman will become champion jockey within 15 years'

Josephine Gordon is given a guard of honour by jockeys at Ascot
Josephine Gordon was given a guard of honour by jockeys at Ascot on British Champions Day

A woman will become champion jockey in Britain for the first time within the next 15 years, says leading apprentice rider Josephine Gordon.

The 23-year-old, who is on the brink of turning professional, is eyeing a top-10 finish in the flat racing standings herself in future seasons.

"There are more female riders around. It's been accepted now that females can be as good as males," she told BBC Sport.

This month Gordon became only the third woman to land the apprentice title, which boasts previous winners such as Lester Piggott and Frankie Dettori.

"I think in the next 15 years there will be a woman who becomes champion jockey," she said.

"Hopefully it will be me. At this time, it's probably quite unrealistic for me but that would be the biggest dream. I didn't think I could achieve being champion apprentice."

Female riders to be champion apprentice jockeys
2005: Hayley Turner (tied with Saleem Golam) - 44 wins
2012: Amy Ryan - 40 wins
2016: Josephine Gordon - 50 wins

Breaking new ground

Racing is one of the few sports in which men and women compete against each other on the same level.

Gordon follows Hayley Turner and Amy Ryan as women who were champion apprentices.

Turner went on to be Britain's most successful female jockey, winning hundreds of races including two top-level Group One contests before retirement, while Ryan was badly injured in a fall and no longer rides competitively as a jockey.

"Hayley Turner set the barrier higher for us, and I'd like to get to her standard if not further," said Gordon, who grew up in Devon.

"We've got loads of up-and-coming females - Georgia Cox, Hollie Doyle, Shelley Birkett, Rachel Richardson - and there's more coming through.

"I think in the next 10, 20 years there will be a top female rider and a lot of records are going to be broken."

She believes opportunities are increasing and can point to her own bookings as an example - Gordon has ridden for more than 100 trainers in the past year.

As well as being apprentice jockey to Stan Moore, she has represented 10-time champion trainer Sir Michael Stoute and Classic winner Hugo Palmer, who calls her "a gifted and strong" rider.

On Monday, she had her first ride (and win aboard Timekeeping) for Sheikh Mohammed's powerful Godolphin powerful team, just days after trainer John Berry had suggested Muslim owners have a bias against female jockeys.

Gordon admits the call came "out of the blue" but is not reading too much into the coincidence.

"It could be that I've just become champion apprentice and they've picked up on that. That was a real confidence boost."

An 18-month dry spell and almost quitting

Gordon's rise is particularly remarkable, considering she almost quit the sport when more than 18 months passed between her first and second winners.

"I'd pretty much given up. I was looking for jobs abroad, not to race ride, just to go out and ride in America or Australia," she said.

"It is a tough game. I spent 18 months without a winner and it drained me and disheartened me. I was having seconds and couldn't ride a winner, and thought it was me.

"When everything's going wrong and you can't ride winners, you are always doing the wrong thing because you're stressed.

"I got in touch with Stan Moore and said: 'It's up to you whether you want to use me. If you think I'm good enough, we'll give it a go.' He threw everything my way and it just filled me with confidence again."

Gordon put in extra work with her jockey coach, Derby-winning jockey John Reid, and she remembers the horse that ended the drought well - 25-1 chance Shamrock Sheila at Bath in June 2015.

"That second winner was probably better than my first because it was just like a sigh of relief. It meant there was a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and I should keep working at it," added Gordon.

The winners came - more than 70 during 2016, including 50 in the championship as she beat last year's winner Tom Marquand (45) into second place.

Josephine Gordon
Gordon riding Symposium, trained by William Haggas, to victory at Ascot in September

A list of ambitions - and the future

Gordon hopes to match Turner, with the help of her agent Phil Shea, by becoming only the second female jockey to ride 100 winners in a calendar year.

Turner hit the mark in 2008 when her 58 victories during the championship campaign from spring to autumn placed her tied 24th in the table.

"Ideally in the next few years, I'd like to be in the top 10 jockeys," said Gordon, who is based in Lambourn, Berkshire.

"When I first started race riding, I wrote down a little list - riding in a race, riding a winner, riding abroad, riding on television. I've got them all ticked off so I've got to write a new list."

But could she be champion one day?

"I'd love that. I'm not saying it's not possible, but I'd probably be pushing it a bit to say that. There's a lot more experienced people than me around. "

Josephine Gordon
Gordon has gone from riding no winners in 2014 to more than 70 in 2016

The challenge of turning professional

After first sitting on a pony as a toddler at her mother Cheryl's livery yard, Gordon has always loved horses and decided she wanted to be a jockey aged about 12.

Regular 5.30am starts to ride out horses, long days in the car travelling to meetings and "no social life" have not dimmed that enthusiasm.

"The buzz of getting on a horse, the speed, and especially it winning is a different feeling. It's such a powerful animal," she said.

As an apprentice, she has been able to claim a weight allowance on a sliding scale from 7lb to 3lb according to winners, which will disappear when she reaches a career total of 95 victories and turns pro.

"I've got seven more wins until I'm professional. It gets harder," she admitted.

"The real test is when you lose your claim whether you can keep the rides, but I feel I've made a lot of good connections. I think they'll keep using me, I'll try my best and work harder than ever."

When setbacks arise, the rider will draw on her experience of that long losing run.

"That has encouraged me even more, that is my motivation I always have that in the back of my head - 'I will not fall back there again,'" she said.

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