IF there was a prize for modesty, Gemma Hogg would be a certainty after being crowned this week as horse racing’s ultimate ‘unsung hero’.
For, after winning the coveted Employee of the Year title at the 12th annual Godolphin Stud & Stable Staff Awards, she was quick to hail the 20-strong team at trainer Micky Hammond’s in-form stables in Middleham rather than the fact that she had beaten 6,000 people to the accolade.
“It’s all about the lads at the yard. We have a super set of staff and the horses are a credit to them,” a gobsmacked Hogg told The Yorkshire Post. “Even though they’re working with racehorses, they’re so good and kind with them that they’re like pets.
“It means a lot to the whole yard.
“They don’t do it for trophies or the big pay cheque. They go out every day and work hard for the love of their horses. It’s a cliché but, as a leader, you’re only as good as your team.”
At a star-studded ceremony in London hosted by Clare Balding to celebrate the often overlooked work of stable staff, the likable Hogg won £5,000 in the leadership category – with another £5,000 going to the Oakwood Stables.
But there was more to come. At the end of the night, she was crowned champion of champions and won another £15,000 for herself – and an additional £15,000 to be split between her colleagues – after being presented with her prize by the legendary Sir AP McCoy, the 20-times champion jump jockey.
With £40,000 heading back to Yorkshire, will the 34-year-old and her colleagues be buying a racehorse with their winnings? “Yeah right,” laughs Hogg.
“I’ve not really thought about it. Until I looked at the cheques at the end of the night, it didn’t register with me how much it was all worth.”
And she means it.
Born in Leeds, Hogg grew up in Horsforth with her sister and colleague Becky Smith – the latter lost out to Malton-based Alyson Deniel in the groom category – and only decided to become involved horse racing when she left school at the age of 16 to join the Northern Racing College in Doncaster.
“I had ponies as a kid and I used to go with my Mum and Dad to the races at Ripon and Wetherby,” she recounted.
“I saw an advert for the NRC in a racecard. From that moment, my Mum knew that I wouldn’t do anything else. With the racing industry, there’s always something to look forward to. That’s what I so like.”
After completing her basic training in the care of horses, Hogg joined Hammond’s yard in Middleham to complete her work placement – and where she has remained since 1998 overseeing a 65-strong string.
Beginning as a stable staff, she has risen through the ranks before being promoted to assistant trainer several seasons ago. Not only does she still muck and ride out when she has the time, but she helps oversee the entries and deals with the owners on a daily basis.
Her effervescent personality, and extreme efficiency, led her to being described as “Micky Hammond Racing” by the trainer.
“Somebody has to kick him into shape!” said Hogg when asked to describe Hammond, who was a jump jockey before becoming one of the more successful dual purpose trainers in the North.
There’s one job that Hogg will not do, however, and that is ride competitively.
She’s done it once – and said ‘never again’ after Charlotte Vale prevailed in a race at Hamilton in June 2007.
The horse’s owner Peter Davies had suggested that Hogg might like to ride the filly – and paid for her to take out a licence.
Yet, while the venture did culminate in a victory which remained a career highlight until this week, she only rode in one more race before hanging up her saddle.
Her reasoning is revealing about her mentality.
“I felt a lot of pressure because I knew how much effort was going in back home to get the horses ready, and I didn’t feel that I could do justice to the lads in the yard,” she said.
“I just thought I would rather leave it for the jockeys.”
She has good reason to do so – Finian O’Toole, a promising young conditional, recorded a treble at Sedgefield on Thursday courtesy of Oscar O’Scar, Verko and Roxyfet for the Hammond team.
Meanwhile the finishing touches are being put to stable star Just Cameron’s preparations for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival when the horse will be ridden by Sheffield-born Just Cameron.
Second to the Willie Mullins-trained race favourite Un De Sceaux at last year’s Punchestown Festival, the horse was second at Doncaster last month and Hogg said: “He was like the Cameron of last season.
“We’re not saying we’re going to win, but we’re going to give it a go.”
As for the future, Gemma Hogg is just determined to maintain her own high standards – and the stable’s winning run.
Don’t bet against it.