Girl power sees jockey Amy take historic title in race for apprentice championship

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AN unprecedented year for British sportswomen will see another historic landmark celebrated 
today when North Yorkshire’s Amy Ryan is crowned champion apprentice jockey for 2012.

The popular 23-year-old is the first female rider to be the outright winner of this title that has been landed previously by many of Flat’s future champions; her great idol Hayley Turner, the Group One-winning jockey, was involved in a dead-heat with Saleem Golan seven years ago for the accolade.

This will be a day of firsts at Doncaster as a vintage Flat season, dominated by the equine exploits of the unrivalled and unbeaten Frankel, concludes with a ferociously competitive renewal of the Betfred November Handicap.

It will see Richard Hughes crowned champion jockey just two years after he lost out to Paul Hanagan in an epic title battle. His triumph is even more remarkable because of his well-chronicled struggles with alcoholism, his decision to briefly walk away from racing a year ago because of inflexible new whip rules and a ban, incurred in India, that saw the 37-year-old spend the first month of this season on the sidelines.

Today’s ceremonies will also see the very likeable John Gosden belatedly become champion trainer in a distinguished career. A competition determined by prize money, it would have been unfair if he had lost out to Aidan O’Brien whose 13 winners on this side of the Irish Sea have been primarily landed in Flat racing’s most iconic races, like the Epsom Derby and the Racing Post Trophy with 2013 prospect Kingsbarns. Gosden, who has saddled 114 winners, has also enjoyed phenomenal Group One success with William Buick, the 2008 champion apprentice now destined for the top.

The meeting will also see the durable Joe Fanning, stable jockey to Middleham’s Mark Johnston, receive the Cock o’ the North cap that is traditionally presented by the Yorkshire Post and Racing For Change to the region’s most successful jockey. His 104 winners were sufficient to withstand the challenge of Bedale’s Graham Lee after the 2004 Grand National hero made a stunning switch to the Flat. Even though Lee says the prolonged periods of soft and heavy going have helped him to make the adjustment to five furlong sprints, the slower pace giving him more time to make tactical manoeuvres, the roll-call of trainers seeking his services suggests that even bigger prizes await a jockey who had suffered a potentially career-ending injury over the jumps in February.

Yet it is the diminutive Ryan’s achievements – she has ridden 40 winners and counting – that continue to astonish as a new generation of female riders make their mark on the Flat or over obstacles in the case of the battle-hardened Lucy Alexander, who has forged a successful alliance with West Witton’s Ferdy Murphy.

Ryan lost her claim, the weight advantage enjoyed by up-and-coming riders, earlier in the year and has been racing since on equal terms against the likes of Hughes, Buick, Lee and other Flat luminaries such as Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon.

It helps that Ryan’s father Kevin, the Hambleton-based trainer, has had another season to remember with the likes of Royal Ascot winner Hototo and Blaine, who landed the prestigious Gimcrack Stakes at York’s Ebor meeting.

But there is no place for sentiment in Flat racing – it was Ryan senior’s stable jockey Phil Makin who rode Hototo and Blaine to their big race successes while the aforementioned Lee has also been another beneficiary of the yard’s run of success.

“It means an awful lot to me,” the new champion apprentice told the Yorkshire Post ahead of last night’s floodlit meeting at Wolverhampton.

“It’s not just down to my father, though he has helped. I’ve had a very supportive team of owners and trainers; people like Richard Whitaker at Scarcroft and Brian Ellison over at Malton have been very good to me.

“I must have ridden at various stages for 40 different trainers – it gives me a lot of encouragement that so many yards are prepared to use me. Dad has put me up on some good horses, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of the other trainers.”

Her highlight was Laffan’s triumph at Epsom on Oaks day. “It was for my father and on one of the biggest days of the year,” said Ryan. “It’s always nice to get a win like that fairly early on in the season; my next goal is to ride a Group winner.”

Humbled that her name will now be added to a roll call of champion apprentices headed by the legendary Lester Piggott (1950) and Dettori (1989), Ryan knows future success cannot be taken for granted – some past winners have struggled at a higher level, either because of a lack of opportunities or because they were weighed down by the burden of expectation.

She will spend the winter riding her hunter and showjumper, as well as keeping race-sharp on the humdrum all-weather circuit.

There is also the small matter of helping to break in her father’s yearlings, the horses that could be potential Royal Ascot or York winners next season if they adapt to racing.

“The main thing is making a living out of a sport that I love, I’m very lucky,” added Ryan. “It’s good that there are a group of us, like Hayley Turner and Cathy Gannon as well, who can spur each other on.”

The only disappointment is that the Yorkshire rider does not have a ride in the November Handicap in which First Mohican, who once ran the mighty Frankel close on the gallops, puts his unbeaten record on the line.

While the world’s best racehorse left Sir Henry Cecil’s stables in Newmarket on Thursday to begin a career at nearby Banstead Manor after a flawless 14 successes, First Mohican will be gracing a racecourse for just the fourth time.

Yet victory is by no means assured – the in-form David O’Meara is looking to end another successful season on a high by saddling Art History and War Poet.

“For Art History, the better the ground, the better his chance,” said O’Meara who trains near York. “He’s wearing blinkers for the first time. We’ve given War Poet a break to get him fresh specifically for this. The handicapper might have him, but we think he’ll run well. He likes Doncaster – he’s run well there a few times.”

On Doncaster’s very own champions day, it will take the performance of a champion to win the November Handicap at the end of a Flat campaign which will always be remembered by the history-making feats of an unforgettable horse called Frankel – and a talented jockey by the name of Amy Ryan.

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