Joanna – Proud Rose Amongst The Thorns

With a master’s degree in sports nutrition, former amateur equestrian Joanna Mason could do many other things to make a living.

But she was born into the saddle and celebrated her first Ascot winner on Saturday when she won the Dubai Duty Free Ride Of The Day award on Amanzoe in the opening stakes of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Curtain Raiser Classified Stakes.

Joanna Mason – proud winner of the Dubai Duty Free Ride of the Day

The ‘tough versus touch’ debate surrounding female jockeys has been a hot topic since the National Horseracing Authority of South Africa decided to join the French in giving the fairer sex a 1.5kg claim.

It has been 25 years since Lady Jockey Alex Greaves in the Five Furlong Nunthorpe Stakes at York on Ya Malak, a sprinter trained by her late husband David ‘Dandy’ Nicholls in Sessay, became the first woman in Europe to compete in a Gr1 race to win.

At the time, such success by a female jockey was the exception rather than the rule, while today Hayley Turner, Hollie Doyle, Bryony Frost and Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Rachael Blackmore make 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,” Joanna explains.

“With Hayley and Hollie, it gets to a point where there isn’t really a barrier for girls anymore. faye [McManoman] is going well and it is nice to see that many more female trainees are moving up.”

She says the facilities for women drivers at UK racetracks are constantly improving, adding: “Things are changing with the times and losing the stereotype that ‘boys are stronger than girls’ because it’s not just about strength; there are fitness and racing tactics, getting a feel for the horse and so on. So whether you’re a girl or a boy – it doesn’t matter.”

Stunning moment for jockey Joanna Mason

Mason, 32, granddaughter of legendary Sheriff Hutton trainer Mick Easterby, told the Yorkshire Post: “I only started riding the Flat regularly about a year and a half ago. I raced as an amateur, so I did a bit of flat riding in the summer and point-to-point riding in the winter. I was joint amateur champion twice and runner-up for a couple of years and then Covid came along and I got a nudge in the right direction from fellow jockey Serena Brotherton.

“I had considered going pro a couple of times but probably didn’t have the confidence to assert myself as I was in the comfort zone of being an amateur. But during Covid amateurs weren’t allowed to drive, that gave me the boost and Serena said I’d be stupid if I didn’t.”

Joanna has held a professional jockey license for 14 seasons as one of the top amateur riders in the country. She rode her first win as a professional when Marwari won at Newcastle on New Year’s Eve 2020.

In the 2021 season she established herself as one of the top riders in the north of England with 44 wins. Joanna rode her claim in May 2022 and rode her 100th winner as a professional in June of that year

It was the right time for Joanna to make the switch as COVID restrictions had somewhat curtailed her rides in 2020. As she says, it was now or never, and she didn’t want to look back on a missed opportunity.

The Malton-based jockey had a very lucky escape in 2016 when she broke her back in a fall.

And while Mason has a professional qualification to fall back on, like many with the “horse virus,” she had no intention of stopping and couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle.

“I sat on a horse after five weeks and could only walk and gallop – five weeks is the longest time I have never sat on a horse. I had eight pins and two poles in my back for a year. I was allowed to race in it and it was exactly three months and a week to the day since I could race again.

“That was because of Jack Berry House [in Malton] – they helped massively, if they hadn’t been there, would I have ridden again? I do not know…

“After a year I had it all out – I was very lucky – because it was an unstable fracture and very close to my spinal cord, so I’m counting my blessings.”

Baby Joanna – started early!

Joanna says Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup was “amazing” and team morale “wonderful”.

“It’s an honor to be chosen to represent the girls and we did our best. We thought we had a really good chance and finished second, so everyone felt proud. We won three races and did well. It was also an honor for Mr [William] Haggas and a good horse make it a lot easier. I just really needed to lead Amanzoe to victory, all the hard work was done at home. It was a thrill to ride a good filly like her.

She admitted she was very worried ahead of the big day.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was an absolutely brilliant day and I enjoyed every minute of it. I would like to do it again. I also loved the team page, it adds another dimension. To get a chance to ride with some famous and well known jockeys when you normally never would – Emma-Jayne Wilson who is a sensation in Canada, Kerrin McEvoy, Christophe Lemaire. And to get my first winner at Ascot on a Saturday – I love it!”

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