Sheriff Hutton Races heralds the start of Yorkshire’s point-to-point season next weekend and it will be a special moment for jump jockey and farmer’s daughter Jacqueline Coward as she competes on home turf for the first time since becoming National Ladies Point-to-Point Champion.
Her achievement is all the more impressive after being at death’s door having suffered a brain injury when she fell in a hurdle race at Catterick in 2009. The following season she broke her back.
It could have been enough to stop her in her tracks but it appears nothing was ever going to stand in the way of Jacqueline’s sunny disposition that has won her the admiration of many in the racing world.
Falling is part and parcel of a jockey’s life and she has experienced her fair share, including twice at the last fence when well-placed in consecutive races at Easingwold last year.
But Jacqueline comes from a racing dynasty that includes her granddad trainer Michael Easterby, uncle David and her mum, Michael’s daughter, Cherry Coward who has her own racing stables at Scackleton in the Howardian Hills where she trains her own string as well as half a dozen others. So she knows all about the dangers of the sport and always comes back smiling regardless of what has happened along the way. She’s also extremely self-deprecating.
“I had my first competitive ride when I was 16, that’s as soon as you’re allowed to. I was pretty useless and came off all the time. It took me three years before my first win at Witton Castle, near Bishop Auckland on a legend of a horse called Silver Groom. I didn’t have to do much except sit there and hold on.”
The catalyst for her transformation from seemingly any old lady jockey to the UK’s number one appears to have been around the time of her breakup with her boyfriend Otis Ferry, son of performer Bryan Ferry.
“I was devastated, but I’d had an offer from Diana Gillam one of the leading American lady jockeys to go over to see her so I took her up on it and flew to Maryland within the week.
“Diana taught me so much and worked me so hard. I’ve always been very competitive and thought I was fit, but this was taking it to a different level. She made me do horrendous things like getting up at 4am and going to Pimlico racetrack to ride out the horses in freezing conditions.
“Then we’d go to her dad’s, ride out even more horses, we’d go to the gym after that. I ate healthily too and later she would make me go for a six-mile run in the snow.”
Focussed mentally and harnessed physically Jacqueline returned to Scackleton and translated hard work into track success.
She has since won the Yorkshire Ladies Point to Point championship every year except the one when her fall at Catterick rendered her incapable of racing for the rest of that season – that year’s title being taken by Country Week’s very own Jo Foster.
Last season Jacqueline rode 25 winners from 104 rides and added the national title to her honours board. Mum Cherry puts her achievement into context.
“Northern girls don’t win the title as a rule, in fact only one other has won it before. That’s because there are more races further south. We travelled more than normally last season including going to High Easter in Essex where the first ever ladies point-to-point race was held, and Jacqueline won there too.”
It’s a family affair at Low Moor Farm where Cherry, Jacqueline and sister Samantha work together in the interests of both horses and racing. Samantha is the joint master of the Middleton Hunt and also runs her own business Beryle Crockery Hire for weddings and special celebrations.
“Sam is the lynchpin of everything we do and all I have achieved. She films all my races so that I can watch and learn and she comes with me everywhere and organises me. She makes all the entries, tells me the weight I need to be, organises my colours and the declarations.”
Farming is the mainstay of the Coward business with Jacqueline’s father Ralph running the 700-acre East Lodge Farm at Thorganby.
The farm operation includes beef cattle and sheep. Ralph is also chairman of Selby Livestock Auction Market. East Lodge is also a renowned game farm hatching and rearing 20,000 pheasants and partridges for local shoots. Low Moor Farm where the horses are trained and stabled runs to 300 acres of grassland.
Jacqueline has a new sponsor this year, Land Rover dealer Armstrong Massey of Tadcaster, but she has no plans to turn professional: “Maybe if I’d not had the nasty head injury I would have considered going professional but I’m just enjoying what I do. My granddad and my father won’t let me go over hurdles again because as my granddad says the horses go a lot faster over them than the jumps on a point-to-point where the horse actually jumps to clear them.
“I’d love to train, as my mum does so well already. Maybe people will send me their horses – that would be great.”
POINT TO POINT RACES IN 2014
The Yorkshire point-to-point season begins next Sunday at Sheriff Hutton followed 11 further fixtures by mid-May.
Other meetings are at: Duncombe Park on 16 February, Whitcliffe Grange on 2 March, Charm Park on 9 March, Dalton Park on 16 March, Hutton Rudby on 22 March, Whitcliffe Grange on 30 March, Whitwell on the Hill on 6 April, Hornby Castle on 12 April, Sheriff Hutton on 21 April, and Easingwold on 27 April and 11 May.