There’s a world of difference between Musselburgh and Kelso and Cheltenham. I don’t mean the 300 or so miles down the M6 and M5, but also the strength and quality of the racing. That’s why Red Tanber, winner of five of his last six races at the Scottish tracks is 100/1 for the Jewson Chase.
The horse won’t know that, and his jockey, 21-year-old Lucy Alexander, isn’t in the least bit bothered about it. Her successful partnership with Red Tanber has helped her reduce her claim from seven pounds to five pounds this year, and to set a new record for a female jockey in a British jumps season which had stood since 1980, thirteen years before Alexander was born.
She didn’t set out to be a professional jockey, despite having ridden in point to point races over the last five years. She says it didn’t occur to her, as there were no role models to follow. Twice, she started a university course, and twice dropped out. She says, “I just didn’t have the interest in the subject to be doing that for four years. You can always go back to university and I’ve got the grades from school.”
But you sense that she won’t try it a third time. Her riding has earned praise from Red Tanber’s trainer, Bruce McTaggart. “She’s one of the best up and coming jockeys I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a lot of people out there who are either good jockeys or good horsemen and she’s both. She’s very focused, very professional and, with a little bit of luck she’ll make it, no problems.”
That focus has seen Alexander move from a position at the end of last season, where she had ridden two winners from 69 rides, to one where she has piloted 26 winners from 230 rides since last May.
As Alexander prepares for her first ever rides at Cheltenham next week, she’s also come under the eye of trainer Sue Bradburne, mother-in-law of Gee Armytage, who ride two winners at the 1987 Cheltenham festival. Her view of Alexander is that “She’s got a real racing brain, she’s a natural. You don’t have to tell her what to do. At the moment, she’s got that marvellous natural ability without a care in the world. She’s not anticipating that the horse is going to put its foot through the nest hurdle and she just rides with her heart.”
That won’t be enough to carry her through to victory next week, whether on Red Tanber or one of her other likely rides, Charingworth in the Byrne Group Plate, De Boitron in the Grand Annual, or one of Jim Goldie’s horses in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. But Alexander is doing her homework in advance of the Festival. She says, “Obviously I’m inexperienced bit I wouldn’t say I’m worried about it. I’ll speak to as many different people as I can and get as much help as I can before it, but hopefully I’ll be alright.”
I won’t be backing any of her rides, but I’ll certainly be watching them with interest.