Image Credit: Instagram / @leonnamayor

"If people don't like the sound of my voice then they'll be watching Racing TV a lot in the next decade because I'm not going anywhere."

How difficult was it 10 years ago as a jockey in a male-dominated sport?

I think it’s difficult to just say racing was difficult for females 10 years ago, everything was more difficult 10 years ago! And even harder 10 years before that! I don’t think it’s racing specifically, obviously we compete on an even keel in racing, which isn’t the same in other sports. I don’t think things were necessarily tougher specifically for women a decade ago, things have advanced with more opportunities, talent, hard work and we’ve seen more women come through and riding winners, which is great to see. Hollie and Hayley have shown it can be done if you’re tough and keep it going. Hollie never named who it was, but she spoke on TV a few weeks ago at Lingfield and said that a jockey told her she wasn’t strong enough, she was too small and she said it made her even more determined. I don’t think any female in racing would want the extra allowance that has been discussed over the last couple of years.

Where would you like to see the sport 10 years from now?

I think racing has improved its image in the last decade. The only negative I suppose is that at the lower level running for £1,500 isn’t good enough. The discrepancy between the elite and bottom of the sport is the main thing, though. We have to bridge that gap. I’d also love to see more women in the sport. I genuinely think that Hollie is the big star in that respect, I want to hear about 10-year-old girls at Ascot being interviewed in 10 years time after riding winners talking about how they watched Hollie at Royal Ascot and became inspired.

You had a spell as a model when you were a jockey, do you think this negatively impacted your career in the saddle?

I didn’t quit because of the lack of riding opportunities out there. Racing for Change asked if I would do the shoot, it was a big campaign to try and make racing appeal to a different audience. I wasn’t sure at first, my parents didn’t want me to do it either, I was only in my early 20s. I got asked again a few weeks later and I agreed to do it. The campaign represented a charity organisation, it was nice to get dressed up and have a fun day of it, I enjoyed it and don’t regret doing it. The lads in the weighing room enjoyed winding me up about it, but then again they’d always find something to wind you up about! I did it for the right reasons and did it again a couple of years later after I stopped riding, I don’t think it was detrimental to me or anyone else at all.

Was it always the plan to go into broadcasting?

I was still riding when William Hill TV got in touch about doing a few things for them. I didn’t like it at all when I first started. I was conscious about saying the wrong thing and felt really nervous. I went into the studio and was so anxious, I hated it. I didn’t enjoy the experience and felt pressured. The guys there were amazing though and they reassured me, joking that most people were only half listening anyway because they were busy in the bookies! I wasn’t sure it was for me, but I felt a bit more natural with every shift and improved as time went on. By 2012 I’d broken my ankle and wrist, then at Kempton I damaged ligaments in my left ankle. I was sat at home injured and realised I couldn’t do this forever. I put a few feelers out there and asked William Hill if I could work for them a bit more permanently if I stopped riding. They seemed keen and agreed to give me 2 or 3 days a week. I think I should have been where I am now around five years ago. It took me so long to adapt to being on TV and I didn’t push myself enough. I didn’t put myself out there, I was happy where I was at that time. The tipping point for me was getting Kiera Barlow as my agent. She had a pony at my yard and I got chatting to her one morning. She used to be a producer at MUTV, so I just got chatting to her about representing me and putting my name out there a bit more. Everything has happened so quickly since then. My first shift at ITV was in November for The Opening Show and by the following June I was at Epsom for the live coverage. I’m usually nervous for the first 10 seconds of live broadcast and then I relax into it.

Do you see yourself carrying on with TV and progressing further?

I’m career driven, competitive and although I love what I’m doing now, my aim is to not be a pundit. I want to ask the questions and be in control of the conversation. I’d love to be a presenter one day. Francesca and Ed are great, I just don’t want to be a guest forever. I love horses and a TV job is ideal for me at the moment but I’d love to be discussing the horses in the paddock, I enjoy seeing if they’re big or small, fit or fat, loud or quiet in the paddock. I would like to do that next and it seems a natural, realistic career progression for me.

Have you noticed more social media attention since becoming more prominent on TV?

Anyone will tell you who’s ever met me, I’m very black and white. I have lots of opinions. I have to keep them to myself sometimes, I don’t want to upset anyone or for them to upset me. The word keyboard warrior is perfect for how people can be. It is few and far between, I’ve got more followers and comments now, but 98% of comments are so supportive. You get the odd one where they go out of their way to be negative, and I do my best to ignore it. I say something back occasionally, but if people don’t like the sound of my voice then they’ll be watching Racing TV a lot in the next decade because I’m not going anywhere.

Have you got any tips for the week ahead?

I really like Lady Bowthorpe in the Duke of Cambridge. I told a few of the lads on ITV that she would run a big race in the Lockinge at 33/1 and none of them believed me, I soon got an apology when she finished second behind Palace Pier! I can’t wait to see him either, I think he’ll win on Tuesday, he is a lovely big horse. He’s a big heavy horse and he probably has more improving to do. Battaash is an interesting one with the crowds back. He can be a bit fiery. Had there been no crowds it would be a massive positive for him, but I’m not sure how he’ll cope with that coupled alongside a long break. I like Lucky Vega of Jessie Harrington’s too in the St James’s Palace.

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