FEATURE BY NEIL WATSON
Upon hearing the news that Lizzie Kelly was to hang up her saddle due to becoming a mum in the upcoming months made me think and reflect on her career, leaving the weighing room at the tender age of 27 might seem strange but I can safely say Lizzie has been one of the forces for good in the sport even if she may not think so herself, it’s a sport with ups and downs and here is a one of the reasons why it is just that.
If you ever need a perfect example to show non racing people how the ups and downs of this sport can go then you could do no worse than to head to the spring of 2017.
In that years Cheltenham Gold Cup the 40-1 outsider Tea For Two lined up for the big race under Lizzie Kelly, keen to make sure he got to the start without getting buzzed up Lizzie held a finger to her lips so the crowd would keep quiet as she made her way down the walkway and onto the course for the parade, all part of her meticulous and well thought out plan to give her every chance of glory in the blue ribband of steeplechasing.
Then as the field got dispatched by the starter the unthinkable occurred when at the second of the twenty two fences, Tea For Two met it on the wrong stride and was out of the race and all the planning and scheming went by the wayside as the horse had a leisurely spin around Cheltenham while Lizzie in front of over 60,000 people packed into Prestbury Park had to do the walk that no jockey wants to do and had to head back to the weighing room early no doubt wanting to be anywhere else at that moment in time than at the racecourse.
Tea For Two thankfully was sound and the long journey back home probably felt longer, nobody knows what was said on the way back but for that to happen is like a footballer missing a penalty at Wembley or a batsman out first ball at Lord’s, it’s part of what can happen in sport and you pray it never happens to you.
After experiencing the one thing that you hope and pray doesn’t happen to you, you wonder and think if the good times will return, thankfully just three weeks later it wasn’t a case of “The Shawshank Redemption” instead we had “The Aintree Redemption”
2017 was ITV’s first year of their tenure of covering racing and in April the cameras rolled up to Aintree for the Grand National meeting which eventually resulted in One For Arthur making the Saltire fly over Merseyside as he tasted National glory.
On the opening day of the meeting one of the feature races is the Betway Bowl and it’s a race with a decent history in its own right and after experiencing an ultimate low in the saddle three weeks before, Lizzie was finally able to exorcise those demons in the best way possible as she delivered Tea For Two in fine style to just hold on long enough to defeat the very popular Cue Card in one of the meetings most exciting finishes.
This for me is how the ying and yang of jump racing works, from being on the deck one minute to walking into a rapturous applause having tasted Grade 1 glory, it shows how sport is the best unscripted theatre in the world, stories develop and change with plots and twists occurring when you least expect them to happen, long may that continue.
Lizzie retires from the saddle on her own terms, healthy and in one piece albeit with injuries that come with being a jump jockey, but she now had a new chapter of her life to focus on.
For me I can safely and honestly say that Lizzie Kelly has been a huge influence on the quality of lady jockeys coming through the ranks.
On the flat with Josie Gordon, Rachel Richardson, Megan Nicholls, Shelley Birket and of course the current star of the show Hollie Doyle who continues to make huge progress in the saddle and in the jumping game with Bryony Frost, Racheal Blackmore, Tabatha Worsley, Bridget Skelton and soon to switch codes Poppy Bridgwater, the talent pool is getting bigger and better all the time with each passing year.
As for the future, Lizzie and her husband Ed will be starting their new bloodstock venture called Valentine Bloodstock and I’m sure we wish them all the success in the world.
whether or not Lizzie returns for a final swansong is anyone’s business, personally I’d imagine the executives at Doncaster getting in touch with her next summer to have a ride in the Lester Legends race, always a good race and it would be a perfect way to say a proper goodbye to the saddle.
On the betting front she won some nice races for me and for my 3 Furlongs Out work Lizzie was the first and currently only jockey to have taken part in Getting To Know You, being injured at the time was a help but she could not have been any more helpful and it was a real delight to have her as a guest. All the best Lizzie, you will be missed but this new adventure in your life will be even more exciting.