Racing: Stylish Jones confident of breaking into top ten

Apprentice of the season Talented South African rider continues rapid climb to the top since arriving in Britain only three years ago
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The Independent Online

If she ever needed instruction in the art of the possible, graduation arrived for Lisa Jones at Santa Anita racecourse last Saturday. That was the Breeders' Cup occasion Julie Krone forged another line in the record books, reminding us yet again that you do not have to shave to be a jockey.

"Don't ask me what it's like to be a woman rider," Krone said in the build-up. "Just ask about being a rider full stop. I'm not doing this for women. I'm doing it for myself. If other women get strength from that okay. But nothing beats sweat and hard work."

It is a lesson Lisa Jones is willing to absorb. She may be half 40-year-old Krone's age and barely deserving of comparison by established merit alone, but there is no dispute about the apprentice's effect on British racing this season. Good, young riders make news. Good, young women riders make seismic tremors as well as wild exceptions.

"My aim is simple," she says. "To just keep riding winners and keep getting better. Nobody knows more than me how far I have to go."

But then Lisa Jones is quite adept at swift journeys. Just three years ago she was still in her native South Africa, her sole connection with British racing the newspaper clippings she had sent over every week. Born in Pietermaritzburg of Scottish parents, horses had always been a part of her life, almost a whole of her passion.

It was an obsession and later a riding expertise which earned her a place at the Summerveld Jockeys' Academy in Durban, the alma mater of, among others, Michael Roberts.

"South Africa had its good riders," she says, "people like Jeff Lloyd, Muis Roberts and Basil Marcus, but I used to follow the racing over here more and people like Kieren Fallon and Frankie Dettori."

Jones is not a typical arm-pumping devotee from her college. Her technique is a magpie collection of tricks, more American than anything else, a notable flatness over the withers of her mounts. "I try to pick a bit from everyone really," she says. "For example, I like the way Darryll Holland pushes his horses, so I'll work on that."

It was a style Lisa Jones brought, along with nerves and anticipation, to the British Isles two years ago. She wandered onto the Serengeti of aspiring jockeys, with nothing but her sex to identify her as being anything out of the ordinary. But then the horses started running.

Jones's brightest achievements have occurred this season in tandem with the Newmarket trainer, Willie Musson. Her 37 victories have made her the Pied Piper of apprentices, and worth almost £700 to those who followed her blindly with a £10 stake.

What is more is that Jones is now accepted as much more than a transient in the weighing room. She faces the double-glazed ceiling of losing her weight allowance and trying to get mounts in the more prestigious races. But if Jones cannot do it, then it may be that the task is impossible.

"There is definitely a chance for a woman to break into the top 10," she says in the tones of the veldt. "You just have to believe in yourself at all times. I don't think physical strength plays much of a part in riding horses. It's more to do with having a horse well balanced and in the right place at the right time. When I first came into racing here I was a little bit intimidated because no-one knew who I was. But now I'm racing every day and they all know me. I ask a lot of them for lifts.

"Before I was a little bit wary and nervous going into the weighing-room to get my saddle. Now they're pretty helpful and friendly. If I do something wrong in a race they let me know, but they don't hold a grudge. Even if you've nearly murdered them in a race."

It is hard to reconcile fratricide with this pleasant young women before you. It is easier to imagine Lisa Jones as just another young person of her age, one who likes taking her lurcher cross Buddy out for walks, watching videos with her boyfriend and reading (still clearly not a real jockey then).

There is also, however, this Ms Hyde, the one which appears at the racecourse. "I suppose my personality does change," she says. "I become that much more focussed and concentrating on what's happening around me. The adrenaline is going and I can feel myself getting competitive."

There is both awe and realism about the achievements already in the book. "I'm aware that a tough patch is just around the corner," Jones says. "Riding horses is like a big wheel and while I'm on top at the moment the bottom is bound to come round sooner or later. I need to do a lot of work on my riding all round. My stickwork, in particular, needs a lot of improvement."

Work has been completed on Lisa Jones' modesty, though. There is more than a touch of the Velvet Brown about her, from the short dark hair to the wonderment in her voice and appreciation. "For me this is all a dream come true," she says. "I could never have asked for any more. I'm so happy I'm riding in England. I can hardly believe I'm riding against worldwide known jockeys. It's unbelievable."

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