There has been nothing ordinary or easy about Sophie Doyle’s path to the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, where on May 3 she guided Street Band to a sixth-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile ravce for trainer Larry Jones at Churchill Downs.
Doyle, 32, 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 riding resume.
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 gained the second graded-stakes victory of her career with Street Band in the $400,000 Grade 2 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks to advance to the Kentucky Oaks, the signature race for 3-year-old fillies. She shares her thoughts on Street Band’s performance and the Oaks Day experience with followers of America’s Best Racing in a diary written with Tom Pedulla.
What a day!
There are some days in your life that stay with you forever. Everything associated with the chance to ride in my first Kentucky Oaks certainly fits that.
There is so much about the day that I will always remember. My brother, James, who has ridden so many big races in England and around the world, rang me early in the afternoon. “Soph,” he said, “just enjoy yourself and ride it like any other race.”
That really sank in when I went out and watched the Survivors Parade. There were 145 cancer survivors marching on the track, and that really gives you some perspective. You realize how much we all need to appreciate every day and enjoy our lives as much as we can.
When you come out on these big days, you really owe it to yourself to soak everything in, from the jocks’ room, to walking out and seeing and hearing the crowd and feeling the excitement of the fans, to coming into the paddock and knowing so many eyes are on the horses and their trainers and riders.
My mother, Jacqueline, was part of the crowd in the ring, taking as many photos as she could. She did not have to say anything for me to feel how proud she was of me. The love and support I felt made it easy for me to smile and feel that I belonged with some of the best riders in the world in one of the most important races in the United States.
I cannot say enough about the faith Mr. Larry Jones placed in me. He has a great team behind him and they did everything possible to have Street Band ready. Medallion Racing and MyRacehorse.com joined the ownership group and it was great to have them aboard.
Street Band can have a fiery disposition. In this case, it hurt our cause. She became quite worked up in the paddock and I had trouble getting her to relax after the long post parade. I knew the start would be very important from post 12 and, unfortunately, she broke a step slower than usual.
I squeezed her a bit because we had to get a good early position. Speed had been holding all afternoon. I knew I needed to be as close to the lead as possible.
Restless Rider, from post 13, was trying to drop in on us. I was able to stay ahead of her and tuck in behind Jaywalk. That became a problem because Jaywalk was not traveling as well as she usually does. Meanwhile, I knew Serengeti Empress was one of the horses to beat. I could tell from a glance that she was traveling sweetly.
I tried to save as much as I could. When I asked Street Band to give me everything she could, she was not there for me the way she was when we won the Fair Grounds Oaks. She dug in. I could feel her trying, giving me everything she had. She just did not have enough.
Mike Smith is one of so many jockeys who have helped me. He always says, “When you look back at a race, do you think you rode a winning race?”
I can honestly say I did. There is nothing to second guess, nothing I would have done differently.
The finish was not what I hoped for. But the day was amazing.