TDN Weekend

Gordon Relishing New Role With Palmer

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Josephine Gordon | racingfotos.com

By Tom Peacock

Josephine Gordon will not be moving to France any time soon. Notwithstanding her disappointment over France-Galop’s decision to propose handing female riders a 2kg (4.4 lbs) allowance in all races beneath Class 1, she is currently undergoing her initiation for a golden opportunity as a contracted jockey to Hugo Palmer’s stable.

This involved a permanent move to Newmarket, having been crowned last year’s champion apprentice from her old base in Lambourn.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot just in the last three weeks since I’ve been there,” she said. “In general Newmarket is a lot different in how it’s run compared with Lambourn. Before I was riding out for one or two different trainers a morning but now I’m riding at Hugo’s every day. He has got some really nice horses, I’m literally riding different ones every day so he can get my opinion on them. At least I’m going to know them when it comes to riding them on the track.”

Palmer, who still has the G1 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold (GB) (Paco Boy {Ire}) in his care, was one of the key supporters as Gordon galloped through her claim, riding an exceptional 87 winners as she wrestled the apprentice title from Tom Marquand. Progress was not always as speedy; it took a lifeline from trainer Stan Moore to snap a losing streak lasting nearly two years from her debut success in September 2013. The 23-year-old from the tiny North Devon village of Chittlehampton ended up donning the Godolphin colours and riding in the Shergar Cup.

“It was as if I woke up and went from having two rides a week to having five or six in a day,” she said. “I thought ‘oh, it’s going to slow down a bit,’ but it kept coming. It was just like, this is the jockey’s life, it’s what they do every day. It has happened very quickly but at the same time it’s gone on very long when I think about when I first got my licence and had my first rides.”

Sitting in the weighing room on a chilly all-weather evening before riding one for Palmer at Kempton feels a lifetime away from the glamour days of Royal Ascot. As Gordon’s position is likened to that of John Gosden’s trusted foot-soldier Rab Havlin, she accepts that the biggest-race appointments will be beyond her at present.

“I’m only just starting off with Hugo, I’ve got to earn that,” she said. “I wouldn’t be any William Buick or Frankie Dettori, they’ve got years of experience on me. I hope one day I will get the chance to ride in Group 1 races–Hugo did put me on really nice horses last year in some big handicap races and that paid off.”

Gordon, like many of her young contemporaries, is a polite and helpful interviewee. However, given her view on the recent France-Galop announcement, it is clear that she will not be shy to offer an opinion if necessary.

“I think they’ve made it into a quite a big deal but it’s not over here,” she considered. “I think it is very sexist, I think it’s probably the biggest sexist thing they could have done considering the last however many years they’ve been saying it’s not about sexism, girls don’t get whatever. It is a bit of a disgrace but if it comes over here, I’ll ride to the rules and take it as an advantage. If I ever go to France it works in my favour.”

“For anybody, female or male, I think it’s a privilege to ride out your claim,” she added. “There are so many people that don’t after working so hard, if you’re good enough or not. I’m chuffed to bits to have ridden out my claim and I don’t want to then be handed back another claim, it’s taking another step back. Even though it may work in my favour I want to prove myself without it.”

She believes the British set-up with dedicated jockey coaches is an initiative that might bring through more female riders on the other side of the English Channel. “Without [Classic-winning jockey-turned-coach] John Reid, I’d definitely probably still be a 7lb claimer,” she said. “Jane Elliott is banging in the winners here, it’s suddenly clicked for her, Hollie Doyle has only a few left until she claims 3lb, there’s Georgia Cox, Lulu Stanford. If you think 10 years ago, there were no girls around.”

Gordon now finds some of those competitors coming to her for advice. “I’ll always offer some help but I’m still learning myself aren’t I? I’m still going into ask the boys, like George Baker and Adam Kirby, or Cathy [Gannon] and Hayley [Turner], if she’s around.”

There has been scant time to bask in the glory of her new-found champion status, or to find her own home. “Property seems to go very quickly,” she smiled. Any precious days off are spent catching up on admin.

“Hugo wanted to kick on from the new year and I couldn’t miss that opportunity. If you’re still getting the rides and the winners you’ve got to keep going,” she said. “It was a huge achievement but does life feel different? I suppose last year if my agent rang up and said ‘you’re riding one for Al Shaqab’, that was like ‘wow.’ I’d say I’m more chilled out about it now.”

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