Sophie Doyle knows how precious the opportunity to have an opportunity is within the Thoroughbred industry.
It is the reason why England's top female apprentice jockey of 2010 left her native land after an 0-for-85 stint in 2012 to try to rattle some doors on the other side of the Atlantic. Because for all the ability she was trying to hone, the number of meets running in England at a given time are limited. The chance for an upstart rider to break into a major trainer's yard even more so.
So Doyle came stateside and decided she was going to do whatever it took to get her name and her work ethic in front of those willing to offer a potential break. Which is why last winter at Turfway Park when trainer Anthony Hamilton Jr. found himself needing a new jockey after a gate incident, pronto, Doyle had the silks on before he had a chance to ask.
"She rode her first horse for me at Turfway. It was actually a filly who (jockey) Aldo Canchano was on, and there was a horse next to her that went up in the gate and spooked her and ... Aldo's shoulder got dislocated," Hamilton recalled. "Sophie was in the jocks room and she came running out of there and said, 'I'll ride her, I'll ride her!'
"The filly ran good so I kept her on and she kept coming out and working horses. She kind of made her own way into the barn. "
At Keeneland on Oct. 3, another Hamilton trainee provided Doyle with the opportunity many horsemen toil entire careers for. This Saturday, Doyle is set to guide Fioretti, winner of the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, out of post No. 1 in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland.
The joy that beamed from Doyle spoke for itself after she guided Fioretti to her three-quarters of a length win in the TCA to earn a spot in the Breeders' Cup. But as the words tumbled forth from the 29-year-old rider, it became clear there was no simple way to sum up what it meant to get tangible evidence that her career risk is paying off.
In this, her second full season of riding in the States, Doyle has hustled her way to 62 wins from 618 mounts that have earned $1,354,366 — a marked uptick from the seven wins from 125 mounts she earned a year ago.
"It was so nice after all the work I had been doing, all the early mornings of getting up every single day," Doyle said of her first graded stakes win. "Even when things were going well, you wonder, 'Where can it lead?'"
"The difference (riding here compared to England) I would say is ... there are a lot more trainers around here, a lot more horses around here in Kentucky and lends more opportunities for any jockeys to ride up here. Here in Kentucky, there could be 2-3 tracks you could be racing at at a time if you're able to maneuver yourself."
Making her own luck has been Doyle's hallmark as she strives to become a rider trainers can count on for an all-out ride and astute feedback.
After trying to build up clientele in California in 2013, Doyle came to Kentucky last year and has worked the circuit for all it is worth.
She has competed at nine tracks in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania since spring. And when she is not in the saddle adjusting her craft to the North American style of riding, she is in the gym pushing back against those who question whether female jockeys can bring the same strength as their male comrades.
"Her work ethic is huge," said Hamilton, who is based at The Thoroughbred Center. "I mean she's in the gym in the mornings and it seems like when she is not riding, she's exercising. She works really hard on her strength, because that is the big knock — that female riders aren't as strong as male riders. And I think she takes that a little personal and wants to make sure she is in top shape."
Doyle's calming yet strong presence in the saddle has played a massive role in getting 5-year-old Fioretti to become a more relaxed horse as they have won two of the four outings together since May.
It is also getting Doyle's name some recognition beyond her familiar connection. Her younger brother James Doyle rides for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Godolphin Stable and has scored classic success for the likes of trainer John Gosden and the powerful Juddmonte operation.
"To watch him have so many successful mounts and win so many graded stakes races ... now for the opportunity for me to be there in my own spotlight is pretty amazing," Sophie Doyle said immediately after her TCA triumph.
With James Doyle set to pilot Birchwood in Friday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, the Doyle clan is about to make history as the first brother-sister combination to have mounts in the Breeders' Cup.
Sophie Doyle purchased a ticket for her mother to come to Kentucky for the Breeders' Cup shortly after her breakout win aboard Fioretti. That she has made it possible for her family to have multiple chances to celebrate on the Breeders' Cup stage is still sinking in.
"It's been huge, to have my brother ride here now on Friday and he gets to stay and watch me ride on Saturday," Doyle said. "To have my family here supporting me is like a dream come true."