When Sophie Doyle decided to leave her native England to continue her jockey career in America, she never thought she would be riding a Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender.
“It was in my mind to gently let my career come into its own and pick up on its own,” Doyle, who is riding at Keeneland during the Spring Meet, said. “Now I have this opportunity.”
Doyle’s Oaks contender is Street Band, and the pair won the Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) on March 23. The daughter of Istan races for trainer Larry Jones, who bred her with co-owners Cindy Jones and Ray Francis. Larry Jones is seeking his fourth Kentucky Oaks triumph after winning with Proud Spell (2008), Believe You Can (2012) and Lovely Maria (2015).
Three years ago, Doyle experienced the energy at Churchill Downs in early May when she rode Torrontes in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard.
“I got to feel the hype and the excitement and how big the crowd is. I love those big days,” she said. “It is incredible to be riding in a great race like the Oaks. It is the Lilies for the Fillies and lilies are one of my favorite flowers.”
A successful rookie in England, Doyle rode her first American winner, Jaz n Tap, in November 2014 at Churchill. She then spent several seasons at Turfway Park before switching her winter base to Fair Grounds. Before the start of racing today, she had 237 winners and mount earnings of nearly $6 million in North America.
Doyle, who values her time on the Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio circuit, celebrated her Fair Grounds Oaks victory with some of her early connections. She thought she was having a quiet dinner with a few friends but instead was greeted by a roomful of people.
The gathering included trainer Larry Demeritte, who trained Jaz n Tap. Doyle returned the favor to Jaz N Tap by providing him with a new career as her show horse and stable pony. Another attendee was Mike Magnanello, who won the 1970 Kentucky Derby on Dust Commander.
“I had no idea about the party,” Doyle said. “Larry was there right from the start of my career, so it was absolutely wonderful that he was there. Mike was a steward when I was riding at Belterra Park in Cincinnati. We didn’t exactly have smooth sailing, but now I see his point that he was trying to make me the best rider I could be. He gave me a lot of advice that made me a better person.
“Sitting around a dinner table together, I realized how strange and funny the world works,” she added. “You never want to close a door because you never know what bridge you might have to climb afterward.”