Yorkshire jockey Joanna Mason on riding out her claim, the rise of female riders, targeting 100 winners and her eventful career in the saddle

Yorkshire jockey Joanna Mason is closing in on 100 career winners, just a couple of weeks after riding out her claim at Catterick Bridge.

Leading lady: Joanna Mason and Just For Yuse win at Beverley last season - where she finished as leading jockey for the season on the Westwood. (Photo by Tim Goode-Pool/Getty Images)
Leading lady: Joanna Mason and Just For Yuse win at Beverley last season - where she finished as leading jockey for the season on the Westwood. (Photo by Tim Goode-Pool/Getty Images)

Mason, 32, granddaughter of legendary Sheriff Hutton trainer Mick Easterby, shed her claiming professional tag when Scarcroft trainer Simon Whitaker’s Yasmin From York, won under her at Catterick.

That took her tally of winners to 95 in a career where the fates have intervened more than once, to guide her to where she is today.

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Mason told The Yorkshire Post: “I didn’t start riding regularly on the Flat until about a year and a half ago. I rode as an amateur, so I rode a bit on the flat in the summer and did point-to-pointing in the winter.

Special moment: Jockey Joanna Mason after riding her 95th winner at Catterick and losing her claiming professional status. Picture: Joanna Mason

“I was joint amateur champion twice and runner-up a couple of years and then Covid came and I was given a push in the right direction from fellow jockey Serena Brotherton.

“I had thought about turning professional a couple of times but probably didn’t have the self-confidence to back myself as I was in the comfort zone of being an amateur.

“But during Covid, amateurs weren’t allowed to ride so that gave me the push and Serena said I would be stupid if I didn’t.”

The Malton-based jockey, who rides out most mornings for her grandad and his son and training partner David Easterby, had a very lucky escape back in 2016 when she broke her back in a pointing fall.

Famous family: Joanna Mason gets an early experience of being on horse back with her grandad Mick Easterby, left and her mum Sue, a former point to point rider. Picture: Joanna Mason.

And although Mason has a Masters degree in Sports Nutrition, like many with the ‘horse bug’, she had no intention of quitting and could not wait to get back in the saddle again.

“I sat on a horse after five weeks and could only walk and canter - five weeks is the longest I had never sat on a horse.

“I had eight pins and two rods in my back and had that in for a year. I was allowed to ride in it and it was three months and a week to the day that I was back raceriding.

“That was down to Jack Berry House [in Malton] - they helped massively, if they weren’t about would I have ridden again? I don’t know…

Edged out: Liam Browne riding Mr Tyrrell (blue) wins The Ewell Handicap from Old News and Joanna Mason (red) at Sandown Park. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

“After a year I had it all out - I was very lucky - as it was an unstable fracture and very close to my spinal cord, so I do count my blessings.”

Mason, who is currently on 96 winners and is grateful for the sponsorship provided by Leeds-based Sky Bet this season, hopes her recovery and subsequent success can provide inspiration for other girls and women to become jockeys.

It is 25 years ago this August since jockey Alex Greaves dead-heated in the five furlong Nunthorpe Stakes at York on Ya Malak, a sprinter trained at Sessay by her late husband David “Dandy” Nicholls, to become the first woman in Europe to win a Group 1 race.

At that time, such a success by a female jockey was the exception rather than the rule, whereas the likes of Hayley Turner, Hollie Doyle, Bryony Frost and Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning rider Rachael Blackmore, are now making it the norm in both codes.

“Hayley was someone I looked up to, but there weren’t many others and I think that probably influenced me because it was a man’s world,” explains Mason.

“With Hayley and Hollie it is getting to the point where there’s no real barrier for girls. Faye [McManoman] is doing well and it is nice to see a lot more female apprentices coming up through the ranks.”

She says facilities for female riders are improving all the time at courses, adding: “Things are moving with the times and losing the stereotype that ‘boys are stronger than girls’, because it is not all about strength; there’s fitness and race tactics, being able to get a feel off the horse and so on. So whether you are a girl or a boy - it doesn’t really matter.”

As a member of the famous Easterby family, Mason has grown up around horses. Great uncle Peter was a brilliant dual purpose handler and his son Tim is also a training success in both codes, as well as riding cousins Emily and William, while her own mother, Sue, was a successful pointer.

Mason says: “We are all related and were all born on a horse, really weren’t we?

“I have been riding since probably before I could walk, Pony Club, Prince Philip Cup games, eventing, hunting, then at 16, I started riding pointing.

“I had ridden about 45 pointing winners when I had my accident and made the switch to the Flat.

“Quite a lot of people might say ‘you are only doing well because of your grandad’ but actually more than half of my winners last year were from outside trainers and I am very grateful for their support.

“Last season, I rode quite a few doubles, I rode a treble at Ripon for three different trainers - to get one winner is hard work - and also to be the leading jockey at Beverley was really pleasing.

“I ride out most mornings. Grandad and David are very good to me, we have got a lot of horses in the yard at the moment who are running, so that is our main priority

“Everyone praises the jockeys but it is the people behind the scenes and those responsible for getting them to the races that are so important.”

With four rides at York this afternoon, the jockey’s next target is 100 winners.

She said: “I’ve still been really busy since I lost my claim. That is the scary bit, losing your claim and people not using you.

“You have got to keep your head down and hopefully trainers are using me for me and not my claim.

“I don’t regret any of it, though, I absolutely love it.”