AFTER Amy Ryan made history 12 months ago by becoming the first female jockey to become the champion apprentice, rising star Jason Hart is leading this year’s race to keep the coveted title in the county.
He is in illustrious company – Robert Winston, Paul Hanagan, Greg Fairley, Freddie Tylicki and Ryan have all won the championship in the past 15 years while attached to North Yorkshire yards and Hart would be a worthy addition to this roll-call.
The 18-year-old, who would be one of the youngest winners of a title annexed previously by Flat icons like Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery, Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore, is following a familiar journey to the top.
The talented teenager – one ahead of his rival Thomas Brown after a winner each last night at Wolverhampton – is now based in Malton.
He honed his riding skills pony racing on the ‘flapping’ circuit in the Scottish Borders where young riders, like Fairley and also Keith Dalgleish, cut their teeth.
It was this experience that enabled Hart, like Fairley and Dalgleish, to be given the chance to prove himself at the Middleham stables of Mark Johnston, a proud Scot.
“My grandfather Derek Campbell was a jump jockey and I used to do a lot of pony racing when I was young,” said Hart, who is on the 39-winner mark for the current campaign.
“I left home at 15 to join Mr Johnston’s as an apprentice jockey. I just emailed the yard. I went there to ride out.
“It was a great place to learn. My first ever ride was on Elusive Fame at Southwell in February in 2011 and I was second, beaten by a quarter length.
“You do wonder what would have happened if I had won.
“He’s got top-class horses and needs top-class riders. The Sheikhs want the best so it was always going to be hard to get going. I’m only five foot two-and-a-half inches tall, but I’m quite broad. My weight was going up towards nine stone and that’s no use to anyone.”
Salvation came in the form of Sledmere trainer Declan Carroll, who offered to back Hart’s potential and provide rides on a regular basis.
It has worked. Going to a less high-profile yard has enabled Hart to learn the most crucial element of any jockey’s apprenticeship – race riding – and they have not looked back as a combination since Spice Bar, a former hurdler who had been previously ridden to victory by the record-breaking AP McCoy, prevailed at Ripon in August 2011.
“It was a turning point,” admitted Hart who has come in for an eye-catching spare ride on One Boy in Redcar’s valuable Totepool Two-Year-Old Trophy race.
“I hadn’t been at Declan’s for too long and it was nice for him to put you on something that he thought had a really good chance. I’m still based with him, and I had a slightly slow start to this season, but it’s going really well and I’m picking up lots of rides for other trainers which has been the major reason why this season has been so successful.
“When you get rides, you are noticed. When you are not getting rides, you are just in the yard. When you are riding, and then winning, that is when people latch onto you. Look at James Doyle. He was about to give up. Now he’s jockey to Prince Khalid Abdullah and has a ride in the Arc on Al Kazeem. He’s there because he got rides at a key time.”
Hart, the beneficiary of a winter’s work riding in the USA at the Breeders’ Cup venue of Santa Anita, knows he will have to travel the length of the country in the pursuit of winners before the 2013 Flat season ends at Doncaster on November 9.
He also knows that there is no guarantee of success – racing is littered with young riders who cannot sustain their early promise.
Ultimately, he would like to become stable jockey to one of the powerful new owners in racing, while Sussex Stakes winner Toronado is the current champion that he would love to ride.
If Hart does make the grade, he will be indebted to top Yorkshire rider Joe Fanning, the jockey leading the race to be this year’s Cock O’ The North – the cap presented by the Yorkshire Post and Great British Racing to the region’s most successful pilot.
“Horses just run for Joe,” explained Hart when asked to name his role model. “I still don’t know how he does it but they run as straight as a gun barrel for him.
“He’s a very nice person and he’s always there to give you advice.
“He’s so consistent, and that’s what you’ve got to be if you’re to keep getting rides.”