Currie and Mason shine on night for female jockeys at Carlisle

Mon 1 Aug 2022

By Nick Seddon

Just 24 hours on from England’s historic victory in the Women’s European Championships at Wembley, it was racing’s turn to showcase its female sporting talent, with the country’s only fully female race night of the year at Carlisle on Monday evening (1st August) – VL Aesthetics Ladies Night.

The eight-race card is unique in that it is the only one in the United Kingdom which is restricted to female riders and one of the jockeys to take advantage was Joanna Mason, who rode a 116-1 double on the card.

The granddaughter of veteran trainer Mick Easterby, Mason has enjoyed an excellent spell since taking the decision to turn professional two years ago and struck twice in the final three races, with the Richard Fahey-trained Crownthorpe (12-1) and the Stella Barclay-trained Glorious Rio (8-1) in the closing Neo Handicap over six furlongs.

The latter of those picked up his first success since October 2021, bounding clear late on for a three-length success, and Mason could not hid her delight in the aftermath.

She said: “It’s fantastic to ride a double and two seconds, I don’t even mind that it’s rained! It’s a brilliant initiative, it showcases the girls and gives you a chance to ride for a trainer who you probably haven’t ridden for. It’s all about building the connections, so it’s a great night for that.

“I’m doing brilliantly again this year, I’ve only turned professional the last couple of years so later on that I could have done. I had my best year last year and this year is going just as well, I’m picking up new connections and staying injury free and hopefully I can ride more winners.”

Meanwhile, it proved to be a memorable night in the saddle for jockey Nicola Currie, who rode a 111-1 treble on the eight-race card. The 29 year old has had something of a mixed season so far, riding just four winners coming into the evening, but she was in top form here, with three well-taken rides.

Currie started the evening brightly and struck early on the card with back-to-back victories on the well-supported Innse Gal (11-4 Favourite) for Iain Jardine and Willing To Please (4-1) for the Phil Kirby team.

The jockey completed her treble with her easiest winner of the trio with the Daniel and Claire Kubler-trained Helm Rock (5-1), who was a commanding winner of the penultimate Dermalux Handicap over nine furlongs.

The four year old was a dual winner here last season and Currie was delighted to see him put everything together after a string of good performances this term. She said: “I’m absolutely delighted, it’s nice to get some winners on the board again and that was very straightforward.

“I was able to dictate at my own pace and get the breathers in when I wanted and luckily the horse stayed, so he did the rest for me.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a treble, so I’ll take any kind of winner or double or treble! This night is fantastic, I’m a granny compared to these lot! It gets them rides that they wouldn’t necessarily get and it gets them seen so it’s great.”

It may be a 278-mile trip north for Claire Kubler to come to Carlisle, but the husband and wife team boast an excellent strike-rate in Cumbria, with three winners from six runners over the past two seasons.

And Kubler suggested that she was keen to strike while the iron was hot with the son of Pivotal. She said: “That was really good and I’m very impressed, he obviously loves it round here. It’s only a Monday and there’s plenty of opportunities ahead so he’ll no doubt be getting an entry soon.

“We had a great season last year, with some fantastic winners at some great winners. We’ve already surpassed our best ever prize money total and it’s only July so we’re flying and it’s fantastic.

“I think we’ve got a really good strike-rate up here! I suppose it’s such a run that you really target races with them to make the journey worthwhile, but it would be handy if we did this at Ascot!”

The opening race on the card was Division One of the Tracy Wharton Appreciation Handicap over a mile, which saw Laura Coughlan pick up a well-timed success on the Lawrence Mullaney-trained Royal Prospect (17-2).

The seven year old show an excellent attitude to battle to the front and score for his rider, who was full of praise for the Ladies Night initiative.

She said: “He’s done that well in the end, they went off quite hard and I wanted to be a bit handier, but I knew they were going a bit fast and it suited him. He’s relaxed and got into a nice rhythm and he’s come from a long way back so I’m happy with him.

“I’ve come down for four rides which is a great as I’m usually travelling round the country for one ride. It’s fantastic to get a few rides on the day and this night is a fantastic one for the girls.”

O'Brien to switch soon

Teenage rider Fern O’Brien has revealed that it is only a matter of time before she makes the transition to becoming a Jump jockey and harbours dreams of helping her trainer father break his long-standing Cheltenham Festival hoodoo.

The 17 year old burst onto the scene with a winner on her first professional ride when striking on 25-1 outsider Lord P for dad Fergal on VL Aesthetics Ladies Night at Carlisle 12 months ago (pictured below).

Her father has enjoyed huge success since switching to his current base at Withington, near Cheltenham, and currently leads the trainers’ championship. But despite his excellent overall record at his local course, he is still without a Festival winner – coming within a neck of doing so with Alaphilippe in last season’s Pertemps Final.

And while O’Brien Junior now has her eyes firmly on becoming a conditional rider after completing her studies next year, she admits that it would be a “pretty cool” family achievement if she could be the one to strike on the big stage for her dad.

Recalling her first ever winner under Rules at Carlisle’s Ladies Night 12 months ago, she said yesterday (Monday 1st August): “That night still lives very clearly in my memory and I will never forget that day - it means a lot to me.

“I’m glad it’s a year ago now though, as I’ve come on so much. I’m not there yet but the amount I’ve learned is unbelievable and I’m going to carry on learning that much for a good few years.

“I’m really grateful to still be in that position to be riding those nice horses and to have live chances, it’s really exciting. I’m only doing two subjects in my A Levels now, they don’t normally allow it but they’ve let me drop one for the racing and I’m just loving it – even more than last year!

“I’ll 100% move over to the jumps at some point. I’m not built to be a Flat jockey in any way, for all that I love it. Jump racing just has my heart and it’s what I’ve grown up doing. I’m familiar with people in the weighing room and outside of it and I’ll hopefully turn conditional if I’m good enough when I come out of school in a year or so and we’ll go from there.

“My dad has come painfully close to that Festival winner, especially this year! It was pretty heart-breaking this year to come so close once again, so it would be pretty cool if I could do it for him. We’ll see though, as I’d rather him not have to wait and do it next season instead!”

VL Aesthetics Ladies Night is the only meeting in the UK exclusively for female riders and was rather fittingly staged just 24 hours after England’s historic victory in the Women’s European Championships at Wembley Stadium.

O’Brien was among the 17 million people tuning in to watch the action from home on Sunday evening and when asked about the impact it could have on women in sport, she added: “I watched the football on Sunday and it was absolutely brilliant.

“Nights like that are so important. I said to somebody earlier that it’s showing all of the younger girls that there are opportunities and chances out there. It’s a massive cliché but girls can have the same chances boys do and it’s really important that the message is put out there.”

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