Toronto – Jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson is ready to take on the world – with a little help from her friends.
Wilson, last year’s Sovereign and Eclipse Top Apprentice Award winner, is in England to contest the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup on August 12, the world’s premier international jockeys’ tournament, featuring six star riders representing Great Britain & Ireland (GBI) taking on six international superstars riding for the Rest of the World (ROW).
The Bramalea, Ontario native, who won 175 races en route to the 2005 Woodbine riding title, was in Florida galloping horses when she found out the news. “I was in Palm Meadows at the beginning of the year and Mike (agent Luider) was down for a few weeks. The phone rings, Mike’s talking away with a huge grin on his face. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Then he turns to me and says, ‘Guess what we just got invited to?’ When he told me, it just floored me.
“To receive the invitation to this and just to ride at Ascot is humbling. My parents are from Britain, so I called my mom right way to let her know. They are there already, along with some of their friends that watch the races all the time. My grandparents, who live in England, are also coming out to watch the event. My mom bought 18 tickets.”
The six races are limited to 10 runners, five racing for each team, and points are awarded on a 15, 10, 7, 5, 3 basis to the first five horses home. The team with the highest total after the sixth race wins the event. At stake for the winning team is the Shergar Cup, which depicts the mighty 1981 Derby and King George winner. It was provided by His Highness The Aga Khan, who owned Shergar.
Jockey captain for the GBI Team is the reigning UK champion jockey, Jamie Spencer. As well as Hayley Turner, he is joined by Irish legend Mick Kinane, and, making their Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup debuts, the UK’s leading rider this year and 2004 champion apprentice Ryan Moore, rising star Robert Winston and Seb Sanders, who has been challenging for the UK jockeys’ title in three of the last four years.
Jockey captain for the Rest of the World, once again, is Italian-born legend Frankie Dettori, three times champion jockey in the UK. As well as Wilson, he is joined by Australian star Glen Boss, who has won the last three Melbourne Cups on Makybe Diva, the six-time Hong Kong champion Doug Whyte, who hails from South Africa, Japanese ace Yuichi Fukanaga, who has won Group 1 races in the USA and Hong Kong, as well as in his native Japan, and French star Gerald Mosse, like Doug Whyte, currently doing well in Hong Kong.
The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is being run for the sixth time at Ascot and the fifth time in its current format. ROW leads GBI 3-1 since it became a jockeys’ competition in 2001. The event did not take place when Ascot was being redeveloped last year.
Although she’s known about it for quite some time, the magnitude of competing in such a high-profile event didn’t hit home until recently. “The focus for awhile was riding here,” admitted Wilson. “A lot can happen from January to August. I don’t think I really felt the significance of it until (last) Wednesday when I said, ‘I’ve got to get organized.’ That’s when it really started to sink in.”
You can expect Woodbine’s leading rider to have her game face on when the gates open on Saturday. “I go out every afternoon here at Woodbine for the love of the game, as much as for the competition and the drive to win. It’s the same mentality when I’ll ride at Ascot.”
And when Wilson returns to the Toronto oval to ride, she’ll begin a new phase in her career, making the transition from apprentice to journeyman. “People say traditionally that business drops off after you lose your bug. If that’s the case, that’s the case. I’m not going to change anything. I’m still going to go out there and ride just as hard, just five pounds heavier. You don’t lose anything, you gain five pounds. You gain the stature of being a journeyman. You’re not a rookie anymore.
“I never look at things as a negative. Instead of losing my bug, I’m moving into becoming a journeyman. You’ve had the first two years of your riding career to prepare for this.”