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kansas
07 Jan 21 11:57
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Report Twoboyz January 7, 2021 1:56 PM GMT
Page Fuller is not like most jockeys. She is a privately educated member of the Fuller's pub and hotel dynasty who, six years ago, took up a place at the University of Exeter to study economics.

Yet her love of riding horses, nurtured in pony racing and allowed to flourish during a gap year in France, tempted her away from university and into a life of 5.45am alarms, riding work for boss Jamie Snowden, Harry Whittington, Zoe Davison and whoever else requires her services, scrapping for opportunities, worries, injuries and miles upon miles on motorways – all for the very occasional success – that 95 per cent of the weighing room knows only too well.

This festive period, for instance, she went from her Newbury home to Wincanton (for two rides), Wetherby (one), Catterick (one), Newbury (two), Warwick (one), Musselburgh (one), Sandown (one) and Plumpton (two).

Her best chance of a winner, Thebannerkingrebel at Plumpton, did little to provide Christmas cheer with a fall she describes as "a useful reminder of why you wear your skull cap".

Both walked away, but Fuller was stood down under concussion protocols – she expects to be back on Monday – and missed a winner aboard Mr Jack in the very next race, the horse who completed an emotional double on the day for the Davison operation, with the trainer's sad death announced that afternoon.

Davison had a huge impact on Fuller's career, as she says: "Her support in particular gave me the confidence to turn professional. I appreciate everything she did for me – the same as so many young jockeys over the years – and she'll leave a big hole in many people's lives as she was such an amazing person."

Zoe Davison: the much-missed trainer had a big impact on Page Fuller's career
Zoe Davison: the much-missed trainer had a big impact on Page Fuller's career
Edward Whitaker
Life as a jockey becomes altogether harder when riding out your claim, as the 25-year-old Fuller did at Hexham on October 10. There is never a good time for any young rider to have to stand as equals alongside the likes of Richard Johnson and Brian Hughes, but given the choice few would opt for the midst of a pandemic – with all the added uncertainty and reduced opportunity that entails.

So just what has it been like operating at the unsung level during the Covid crisis?

"It was tough in the summer months," says Fuller, who was not able to return to race-riding until July and has ridden ten winners this season since her first success in September compared to double that between the start of May and end of December in 2019.

"There was only one race meeting a day and a lot of claimers – especially 3lb claimers – took a long time to get going. It was pretty much the top jockeys and, once claimers could ride, those with bigger claims that were riding. Now we've got a few meetings on, it feels like it's back to something more normal."

Asked if she is still feeling the pinch, Fuller gives a nuanced appraisal of her situation.

"I'm not feeling it personally, but also I'm at a stage of my career where I've just ridden out my claim, most jockeys would normally expect it to get quite tough because you're less appealing for people to give you opportunities out of nowhere. How would you know which factor was driving that impact?

"There are so many variables, I don't think I'd know if it had a direct impact on me unless one of my trainers turned around and said 'I'm really sorry but I can't afford to do it anymore'. It'd be very hard to know if that was the reason you weren't picking up spares for instance, it could just be someone else has come into fashion and is getting those opportunities rather than the rides aren't there."

Yet Fuller is aware that as she tries to take the next step in her career and cement her status in the professional ranks she is also battling a factor outside her control.

Perhaps it is the mind that wanted to study economics – and having a father who lobbies government on behalf of a corporate behemoth cannot hurt when it comes to looking at the bigger picture – but Fuller fears the financial impact of Covid-19 may not be fully felt until next season and is smart enough to work out that could have a knock-on effect on her progression.

"A lot of the yards I work for are lucky in that they haven't yet been affected as much as I initially expected," she says. "There's been so much support since this started, obviously people have had a hit, but the government was propping up the economy last year. No-one knows what's going to happen this year.

"I haven't yet seen people selling a horse because they can no longer afford it, but I personally believe it's not going to be until summer, when everyone's had a year of this toughness, that people are going to have a better idea where their finances are. I think that might be when we start really feeling the pinch and people sell horses from the last season. I think that's when the racing industry will start feeling the implications."

She adds: "The other main issue is prize-money. I've heard more grumblings from owners than ever before and, coupled with the economic impact of Covid, it's a hard balance to strike and has been heightened by this pandemic. Everyone had budgeted for last year before everything happened, but with incomes hit and the fact the chancellor is going to have to start taking money back somewhere, people might start re-evaluating their priorities."


Covid-19 hit racing hard in 2020, but Fuller fears the real implications from the pandemic are yet to be felt
Covid-19 hit racing hard in 2020, but Fuller fears the real implications from the pandemic are yet to be felt
Edward Whitaker
Fuller would like it too if the sport would re-evaluate its priorities and adopt a more realistic view of what success is given it is so competitive and – for all but an elite few – opportunities are so limited at the top table.

"Everyone wants to ride the best horses, you wouldn't be doing this if you didn't because that buzz is what you live for, but I find the sport quite challenging at times because there is so much focus on the big days and, if you're not riding on those days, you feel like you've not necessarily made it," she says.

"Sometimes you need to remember it's a career and yes, we're all professional athletes and want to be at the top, but you also have to go and do a job every day to pay the bills – and if you're riding every day of the week you're doing well.

"You might not be on the best horse, but that's not your fault and you can make a career out of it and still have fun doing it. I think that's something the sport's not very good at encouraging in young jockeys – everyone tells you you have to be like Tony McCoy. Yes, you need that want and drive, but realistically you can't achieve what he achieved – that's very unrealistic.

“You can be as strong-willed, dedicated and hard-working as him, or Dickie [Richard Johnson], or Brian Hughes, but it doesn't necessarily mean you will become them and it sets a lot of people up for failure in their own head. We all work hard and really want to be the best we possibly can, but sometimes we have to take the small wins each week.

"The industry puts so much pressure on you to have to be the best and actually sometimes you can't be – but you can be the best version of yourself. Sometimes that's really hard as a jockey to weigh up because you feel like you're doing all you can, but it can feel like you're not good enough for the industry when you are and it just hasn't quite happened."


Page, pictured riding Bigmartre, has some targets she'd like to meet in the near future
Page, pictured riding Bigmartre, has some targets she'd like to meet in the near future
Grossick Photography
Fuller has come a long way from wanting to "prove to everyone else I wasn't just someone who had pointers bought for them to ride and do well on". She turned professional after her second champion lady amateur title and has now ridden out her claim. It may not have been the career path expected when she set off for Exeter, but she is adamant she made the right choice and, as someone who is constantly raising her own expectations, has new targets of reaching 100 winners – she currently sits on 82 and wants to get there by the end of the season if she gets her way – and a Pattern success.

"I still absolutely love it," she says. "It's not the world's most glamorous job, but who enjoys their desk job every day of the week? I believe I must have more enjoyable days doing what I do now than I would in other careers.

"You can have really bad weeks where everything goes wrong, you're driving up and down the country and it can get quite desperate at times, but you have to put things into perspective and realise most people have jobs they don't necessarily enjoy and the good days are so much better than a lot of people get. It makes the rest worthwhile."

Get to know her and it turns out Page Fuller is exactly like most jockeys.
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