It has been a long time coming but, since we are in the days where half the population no longer rides sidesaddle, it should really not be a surprise. Hayley Turner made history here yesterday as the first woman to win a top-level race in Britain outright when she took the July Cup on Dream Ahead. Horse sports, though, are one area in which females can, given the opportunity and the right partner, prove as deadly as males; just ask Mary King, Beezie Madden or Anky van Grunsven.
Racing, though, at least in these parts, has a pedigree of sexism and has been slow enough to catch up. Turner, more than any, has been the one to break down prejudices; in 2008 she became the first of her sex to ride more than 100 winners in a year and is now widely respected as a competent jockey, not a competent woman jockey.
Although she is happy enough to have become something of a standardbearer for the female cause, yesterday's victory was important to her because it was her first Group One – and, as such, a significant notch on her CV – not a Group One victory for the girls. "I hope I've passed the point of having too much of a fuss made because of what I am," she said. "I may get a bit girly away from work, but in a race I am just another jockey who gives and gets respect from the others.
"For any jockey who isn't attached to one of the biggest yards, essentially it's all about getting the breaks, getting the opportunity and getting on the good horses. And then it's up to you."
That opportunity knocked three days ago for 28-year-old Turner, who overcame a serious head injury two years ago, because the first two riders on trainer David Simcock's list, William Buick and Jamie Spencer, were otherwise pressed, the former at York yesterday afternoon and the latter in New York last night.
And so, it was she who became part of the emergence of the explosive new talent that this year's sprinting division needed.
Last year Dream Ahead had, after two Group One wins, been rated joint top in the juvenile rankings; this term he had, as his counterpart Frankel progressed to superstardom, become something of a forgotten horse. His liking for easy ground meant he missed all the big spring targets and, though he eventually emerged at Royal Ascot, it was to run unplaced to Frankel over a mile. "We had to have a go at the mile route," said Simcock, "but it was clear there that he didn't stay, so this became the target."
Dream Ahead hit it right in the middle. After tracking the pace Turner made her move through the final furlong and, despite encountering some traffic problems, her mount produced a fine change of gear to burst through in the last few strides. The son of Diktat's margin of victory over Bated Breath was only half a length, but it was an easy half-length. Hitchens came in third, ahead of Libranno and Delgator. Star Witness, the 4-1 favourite, was a disappointing tenth.
It was Turner's first ride on Dream Ahead – Buick had been in the saddle for his five previous runs – but she did her homework. "I spoke to William, so I knew what to expect," she said. "The horse travelled really well the whole way, and that trouble we met close home may even have helped, as he's not a horse who wants to get to the front too soon. I could see the gaps were coming and the way he was travelling, I could feel it was always going to be easy to get out of any pocket. And of course I'm thrilled to win a race like this. It's on any jockey's list of things to do."
Turner, who bettered Alex Greaves' feat of dead-heating for the 1997 Nurthorpe Stakes, is aware as any that a rider is generally only as good as his or her horse, as Simcock – understandably delighted at Dream Ahead's redemption – pointed out. "It is great for Hayley to get her Group One, but most of the time it's the horsepower that matters. Sebastian Vettel would not win the Monaco Grand Prix in a Mini. This win is so important for the horse. People were starting to write him off and say that he didn't deserve last year's rating, but I knew he still had that class, his homework had been exceptional."
The next stop for Dream Ahead, who carries the colours of Khalifa Dasmal, is the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville next month. Buick will be back in the saddle then, but Turnerwill always remember the day the big brown colt was Hayley's comet.