24 February 2023

Joanna Mason secures third place in International Jockeys Challenge

24 February 2023

The fourth edition of the Saudi Cup meeting kicked off with a fascinating International Jockeys Challenge which went down to the final race, with Britain’s Joanna Mason narrowly denied by Luis Saez.

Mick Easterby’s granddaughter was in contention throughout the four handicap races, each worth $200,000 to the winner.

It was crack US jockey Saez who earned enough points to pocket a $100,000 windfall for finishing on top of the leaderboard, sealing his success with his second runner-up placing of the night in the final event, with Mason only managing fifth place with the former Ed and Simon Crisford-inmate Labeebb.

Saez led form the first race, when coming late and fast aboard Wajaab to pip the Mason-ridden Najm Alenaya in the last 200 yards.

Mason, 32, turned the tables and was tied at the top when landing the second race aboard Medbaas. Saez finished runner-up aboard Kareem, then edged ahead in the competition with a sixth-placed effort before his second runner-up finish of the evening.

Panamanian roder Saez, who rode at the inaugural Saudi Cup meeting in 2020 and is a veteran of over 2,600 winners, said: “It is wonderful to come here. I am proud to come to Saudi Arabia and it is fantastic to be part of the Jockeys International Challenge.

“The horses ran well and it was great to win. I am very happy.”

Mason was far from disconsolate, despite eventually being pipped for second by star Japanese rider Yuga Kawada.

She said: “To finish third was amazing. To even be part of the challenge was amazing and to win would have been the best.

“I didn’t get the best of runs in the last race, as I got cut up on the rail. I’ve had to take back. I wouldn’t have been a winner, but I would think I would have been in the first four and got placed points, but that’s racing.

“To be third is better than nowhere. I’m the only girl on the leaderboard, so I can’t complain. Doing it for the girls!”

Mason has a happy knack of producing the goods in these jockeys’ challenges. She was a winner at Ascot’s Shergar Cup last year.

“The Shergar Cup was amazing, interacting with the girls there. I love travelling and going to these different countries and representing the UK and the girls.

“To ride a winner is amazing. Caitlin Jones won this last year and it was amazing. It is doing our little bit for the girls.”

In a country where the barriers for putting women on equal terms with men are slow to come down, Mason feels time and a heightened profile for women riders will help her sport, at least.

“It has all been about stereotyping,” she added. “Definitely in the UK, the likes of Hayley (Turner), Hollie (Doyle) and Nicola Currie, we have a strong ladies’ contingent. Put us against the boys and you can’t tell.

“We are definitely breaking down barriers and there is still a little bit (of resistance) there, but we are fighting our way and hopefully the rest of the world can continue that.

“It is not all about who is stronger and fitter. The girls are just as balanced and have a racing brain on them, and hopefully we can prove them all wrong.”

Mason returns home on Sunday and will be a regular on the all-weather tracks, rather than heading to Dubai.

Yet she continues to build her profile and hopes she will be invited back to Saudi next year.

She added: “No one I ride for has horses out in Dubai, but another year and to have the opportunity to ride out there would be amazing.

“This experience has been great. I’m doing well in England and can’t complain. I’m up there with the top females and if I can better last year and get involved in things like this next year, it will be amazing.”

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