There has been nothing straightforward about Sophie Doyle’s path to the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, where she is set to ride Street Band for trainer Larry Jones on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
Doyle, 33, grew up in Lambourn, England and emerged as the leading female apprentice in her home country with 28 wins in 2010. She eventually came to the United States in search of greater opportunity and is gradually building her career.
Doyle set career highs with 83 wins and $1,740,401 in purse earnings in 2018. She ranked second in the jockey standings at Hawthorne Race Course last spring before being the third-leading rider at Arlington International Racecourse near Chicago with 52 wins.
Doyle notched the first Grade 1 victory of her career when she combined with Street Band to take the $1 million Cotillion Stakes on Sept. 21 at Parx Racing, providing the connections with automatic, fees-pain entry in the Distaff since the Cotillion is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
She shares her thoughts on her potential career-altering opportunity in the Distaff with followers of America’s Best Racing in a diary written with Tom Pedulla:
Street Band’s victory in the Cotillion surprised some fans. It did not surprise me.
She has been maturing with every race. She is not the high-strung filly who got worked up in the post parade for the Kentucky Oaks and never really settled down.
In the Alabama, the race before she competed in the Cotillion, she faced sloppy conditions for only the second time in her career. She handled the mile and a quarter really well and missed second by a head bob.
I planned as much as I could before the Cotillion, as I do before every race. But I never imagined she would be as far back as she was after the break. I didn’t panic. Parx had been a fair track all afternoon with a good number of horses closing to win.
Larry was so pleased with me afterward because I stayed confident and allowed Street Band to run her race. When she handed Guarana her first defeat, it showed everybody how really good she can be.
When it was over, when I had my first Grade 1 win, it was fantastic. I was on cloud nine. It was a very special moment, a sweet moment. After all of the hard work and years of racing around from one country to another, I had a chance to prove myself against the big guys. And I did.
I will always be grateful to Larry for the opportunity he has given me with Street Band. Larry and his team can be counted on to bring out the best in a horse. He is a wonderful man who has shown through the years that he stays faithful to those who do a good job for him.
I know there were a number of times when Larry could have changed riders and brought in someone with more big-race experience. I really appreciate his willingness to stick with me. I do everything I can to reward his confidence in me.
Midnight Bisou is highly respected in the Distaff and rightly so. She has done nothing wrong all season, winning all seven of her starts. Street Band, facing older horses for the first time, will have to run the race of her life to win. She has that in her.
I was really happy with the draw when we got post [position] three. Street Band had that post when we won the Fair Grounds Oaks and when we won the Cotillion. I have speed outside of me and I think we will get the strong pace we need. Serengeti Empress will want the lead. There are other riders whose horses also have early speed, and they will not want her to shake loose.
I will study replays of each horse in the Distaff to have a really good idea of how the race is going to be run. I try to do everything I can to avoid surprises out there, and to be confident in what I am doing. Street Band and I are a team. She needs to feel that confidence from me and not pick up on any negativity that might make her anxious. I want to go out and enjoy the race, appreciate the moment. I always tell myself, ‘Don’t forget to smile.’
When I am asked if it is harder for a female jockey to move up, I believe it is a bit harder. I see other riders with my level of experience or less getting more opportunities than I do. That is frustrating. I would like to think a victory in the Distaff would open more doors for me, that there are more trainers like Larry Jones who would give me the chance to show what I can do.
Most people view Midnight Bisou as an unbeatable favorite. I see it differently. I can see Street Band in the winner’s circle. Success starts with believing you can do it, believing you will do it.