Feature Story



By Sam Turner - 

Watching Saffie Osborne limp back to the Meydan weighing room, saddle in hand, helmet removed and sporting an expression comprising pain and frustration in equal measure, one is reminded of the pitfalls of being a professional jockey. A nasty stalls incident before the closing handicap on Friday night saw the 21-year-old unshipped from intended mount Laser Guided who became dangerously agitated and fractious in the gates.

For a rider just returning from injury, it was a worrying incident. While a chance to ride that elusive Carnival success eluded Osborne on Friday, she wasted little time bouncing back with a winner at Wolverhampton just 24 hours later, her second victory since resuming race riding following a three-month spell on the sidelines. In an exclusive interview with Sam Turner for Adiyat Racing Plus, Osborne discusses her hopes for the Carnival, the year ahead and her relationship with father Jamie, himself a top-class rider and successful trainer.

Saffie, you had a brilliant year last year, which was sadly cut short by injury following a fall last October. How hard was the rehabilitation?

Last year was brilliant and it was a fairly transformative year for my career. For the first year out of my claim, it was vital things went well and I was very lucky that I enjoyed a lot of support from a number of trainers. It was the first year I was on Tony Hind’s books, and everyone knows his reputation. He’s an unbelievable agent and has done wonders for my career. It was extremely frustrating to get injured when I did as I’d had 10 winners in the fortnight before I got injured so the timing was annoying. As rehab goes, I found it unbelievably frustrating as I haven’t been very lucky with injuries. I’ve been riding for four years, and I think I’ve been sidelined with injury four or five times already. I’ve had broken bones before, but I found this latest injury far more frustrating. Ligament damage issues take longer to resolve, and it was hard to put a date on a comeback. I was out for three months in total, and it was great to finally get back on track.

With 70 winners and some high-profile successes like Metier (Chester Cup) and Random Harvest (Valiant Stakes) last year – do you regard your most satisfying achievement the volume of winners or the major wins?

At the start of the year, I would definitely have taken that season, but then halfway through, with the way the season was transpiring, I was really disappointed not to reach the totals of winners I had set myself because of injury. I got so much satisfaction out of wins for Metier and Random Harvest as well as Tregony in Stakes races. Metier was always a horse I had a huge amount of faith in, and the Chester Cup was a target of his ever since he won the November Handicap the previous autumn. He gave me a massive thrill that day as he came from a long way back from a poor draw and I think he was the first horse to really put my career on the map. That win really helped kick-start the season.

With 70 winners and some high-profile successes like Metier (Chester Cup) and Random Harvest (Valiant Stakes) last year – do you regard your most satisfying achievement the volume of winners or the major wins?

Random Harvest getting nabbed on the line at Royal Ascot was gutting, I can’t lie! On one hand you are delighted with how she ran and, even though she was a big price, I didn’t think she deserved to be as she had run a really good race on Derby Day a few weeks beforehand. It is a hard thing to do, to try and make all on the straight mile at Ascot, but tactically I look back on the ride and think there is nothing I would do differently. No one remembers who finished second apart from yourself and those involved with the horse, so it was very frustrating, especially as she had finished second in a handicap the year before at the Royal meeting. Places like Royal Ascot and the Meydan Carnival are venues that jockeys dream of riding winners, and I have seemed to come agonisingly close at both; so, , I hope that’s a situation I can rectify soon.

One of the main attributes of top jockeys, apart from outstanding talent, is being able to manage disappointment. How do you manage to cope with the bad days?

Most top jockeys have a strike rate between 10 and 20 per cent, so it is the way of things that there are days of disappointment. That is the amazing thing about this sport, fortunes can change for the better of the worse extremely quickly with rides every half an hour. In the early days, I probably didn’t cope with disappointment particularly well – it’s something that I have really worked on myself after the first couple of years riding. I’d say it’s very easy to start doubting yourself, but last year was a massive turning point in my career as it was the first year, I rode with confidence truly believed in what I was doing. It was probably also the first year when I felt I was good enough to ride on the bigger stages and I hoped that showed in my riding. It is annoying if you are beaten on a well-fancied horse in a big race as they are the opportunities where you can showcase your ability, but thankfully I’m enjoying a few more opportunities in that type of race thanks to the likes of Ed Walker, dad and a number of other trainers who have given me those opportunities.

Is it a help or a hindrance that your father, Jamie, was also a top-class rider in his time?

We discuss horses of his, of course we do, and he would be the first to say if I’d given a horse a good or a bad ride, but we have never ever really had a cross word over one of my rides because he knows when I know if I’ve done something wrong or made a mistake. He knows I’ll be the first person to come back and hold my hands up and say ‘I should have done that differently’ as I think it’s extremely important in any relationships with trainers that you admit if you’ve made a mistake. Dad had an unbelievable career in the saddle, but he has always been very keen for me to pave my own path, which I think has been amazing as we have such a good working relationship. My jockey coach is ex-jockey George Baker who has helped me since my first ride, and I would still speak to him on a daily basis. George was unbelievably astute from a tactical perspective when he was riding and it’s so beneficial to bounce ideas of someone who you really trust and value their opinion.

Your dad clearly loves the Middle East and has been bringing horses out here for years. I’m guessing you don’t need a lot of persuasion to join him!”

I absolutely love racing in the Middle East. I grew up watching Dad have plenty of runners and winners out here, especially the likes of Toast Of New York winning on World Cup night, which was incredibly special. Dad would say he was the horse that transformed his career and Dubai is an unbelievable place to ride, let alone ride winners. I’ve been agonisingly close to riding a winner in Dubai and it has been very special to watch Dad train winners here, so I’d like to join that club!

It would be marvelous to see a female rider enjoy success at the Carnival for the first time – what would it mean to you to become the first?

It isn’t something I’ve thought a great deal about, but it would be cool to ride a winner out here full stop, no matter what my gender. Hopefully, dad’s team of horses and any of the other trainers I ride for will provide some live opportunities. It was obviously very frustrating on a personal level to miss the ride on Ouzo, albeit I was delighted for Dad and the team. Adrie de Vries gave him an unbelievable ride that night and hopefully I can do the same going forward.

Are there any horses in particular that you are looking forward to riding in 2024?

All the horses we have out here are worth keeping onside for this year moving forward and Barrett Racing have really invested in some lovely horses this autumn which is very exciting. I am very fortunate to ride for Ed Walker and he has an extremely strong hand coming into this year with plenty of talented horses which should improve, but I guess if I had to nail my colours to the mast then Emaraaty Ana would be appropriate as he ran really well on his Meydan comeback in the Blue Point Sprint and won’t mind going up to 1200m in the near future.