Stardom beckons for Samantha

Question – which jockey currently enjoys a strike rate of 23% over fences this season with seven winners from just 23 rides? Add into the mix an overall strike rate of over 15% with 11 winners from 73 rides and stir in a record of 39 of those 73 rides finishing in the first four.

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Highly impressive statistics that belong to a young lady who only turned professional last August – 25 year-old Samantha Drake. The decision to make a living from arguably the toughest of all sports – “the only job where you are followed round by two ambulances”  according to multiple champion jockey Tony McCoy – was based on people simply suggesting she should “give it a go”.

With the excellent Lucy Alexander already proving that the predominantly male bastion of northern jump jockeys was ripe for infiltration, Samantha’s decision to follow suit could hardly have made a more striking impression to date.

It comes as no surprise to learn that the conditional jockey, attached to Joanne Foster’s stable at Menston in West Yorkshire, honed and refined her skills in the eventing, show jumping and, more recently, the point-to-point arenas of Yorkshire. It is immediately evident watching her in the saddle  that horses travel and jump for her . She unquestionably has “good hands” which enable her to get her mounts to settle and travel in a kindly rhythm.

A perfect demonstration of her unquestionable coolness and composure in the saddle was shown when Cara Court came home practically unchallenged when scoring at Sedgefield earlier this year. The trip was a daunting 3m3f and many casual observers no doubt were happily predicting that “she’s gone off too fast” as the ex-Irish gelding established a healthy early advantage.  Little did they know.

The combination travelled and jumped superbly throughout with the pilot revealing a beautiful sense of pace judgement. It was a happy return to Sedgefield for Samantha who had ridden her first winner under rules at the pleasant northern venue on Optimistic Harry in 2010.

However, she was full of self-deprecation when I caught up with her at Southwell recently stating that it was “all credit to the horse.” That’s fine coming from a Walsh or McCoy but somewhat unusual from a 7lb claimer looking to make their way in the toughest of sporting codes.

But that seems to be the Samantha Drake way. I remind her of the lovely double she rode at Hexham to which she responds with “the course has been good to me.”  Nevertheless, the requisite tough-as-teak mental and physical approach should never be doubted.  A first ride at the imperious racing extravaganza that is the Cheltenham Festival recently ended with her being unseated at the fourth – “I was knocked sideways,” she says.

But surely just being at the festival of festivals in her first professional year was the buzz of buzzes. “No,” said Samantha. “It was frustrating. I thought we had a real chance of running well.”

However, be in no doubt that there will be more good chances for Samantha Drake in the future. She represents tremendous value for her 7lb claim and has just started to pick up those quintessential outside rides that are needed to augment the mounts she takes for the Joanne Foster yard.

Foster has no doubts about Drake’s ability. “She is so valuable to me. She analyses every race and provides excellent feedback.  She is striving to improve with every ride and is really good from a tactical point of view,” says the Yorkshire handler.

The Drake-Foster team had travelled to Southwell in deepest Nottinghamshire on the day I caught up with them with a sole contender – Marino Prince, who, to put it bluntly, is something of a quirky character. Drake settled the gelding into an immediate rhythm, hit the front entering the straight before looking beaten as she was challenged on both sides, notably by one of the jockeys of the season in Aidan Coleman.

But there was no panic, no immediate resort to a flailing whip. Just push, push and more push before driving the old boy home to land the spoils by a neck.

A fine demonstration by a burgeoning talent – and a talent that every sensible punter should keep a very close eye on.

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