LEONNA Mayor openly admits that her career is at something of a crossroads.

The jockey, who lives in east Challow, near Wantage, had just started to make a name for herself in horse racing when injury forced her into a spell on the sidelines.

Now it seems that her new business is the way ahead, with racing to the left and modelling to the right.

It’s a real dilemma for the popular, pretty and confident 22-year-old – but one she will make by taking the philosophy she has followed all her life, one of hard work.

Mayor has ridden 32 winners on the Flat, but her steady climb up the ladder was halted by an ankle injury.

While off the track, other doors opened for her.

Mayor was asked by Racing for Change, the organisation responsible for publicising the sport and making it more consumer-friendly, to do a photoshoot for men’s magazine Zoo.

The intention was for the sport to be seen in places it had never been before. She agreed.

Suddenly, the Stoke-on-Trent girl was appearing in national newspapers and was better known for her body than her talent in the saddle.

It was a situation she wasn’t used to, and one that clearly shaped her decision to open a new business in Wantage rather than rush back into riding horses again.

“I love racing, but it’s hard,” she said. “Everybody works really hard in the sport – for some people it just happens, but for others it doesn’t.

“I feel a lot of the time that although I have ridden 32 winners, it may as well be two.

“I still struggle to get rides, I still have to fight my corner all the time and then there is the publicity about the photoshoot.”

This topic still clearly riles Mayor, who has never wavered from the belief that she has done nothing wrong and did things for the right reasons.

The pictures of her posing in her underwear, the majority felt, were positive for the sport.

A few dissenting voices, however, also had their say.

“There really were only a few people that had adverse opinion about what I did,” she said. “Everybody else was very positive about it all.

“I don’t see why it was a bad thing because it put racing, and girls in racing, in places where they hadn’t been before to audiences they hadn’t seen before.

“I do not see the problem myself, but it’s little things like that which make you think ‘is it all really worth it’.

“Racing for Change are an organisation that are there to publicise racing. They asked me to do the photoshoot.

“It’s not like I went to Zoo and asked to do it, like some said – they asked me.”

Mayor has not been back in the weighing room since the magazine was published.

That will follow as she is sure that she will get back into the sport one day.

But that will be when it suits her. And that, she hopes, will be when her new tanning and flabelos (body vibration) shop, Bake N Shake, in Wantage’s Mill Street has taken off.

“I definitely will ride again,” she insists. “I’m not finished, that’s for sure. I just don’t know for who and where.

“I miss a lot of people in the game – lots of jockeys keep asking me when I’m coming back.

“My dream would be to get the shop going, have a nice business, earn a nice wage and not have to ride for the money.

“That’s what makes you miserable because you’re doing it because you need the money, not because you enjoy it.

“I did all right out of racing, but I haven’t had the lovely lifestyle which you might expect by working from 6-6 every day.”

But while she will be working those hours now, she is optimistic that Bake N Shake will be a big success.

In partnership with Steve Jakes, whose Wellpool Building and Maintenance services company sponsored her as a jockey, Mayor believes she has found a gap in the market for the people in Wantage and the surrounding areas.

“When I was setting things up, I got lots of good feedback from people in the town,” she said.

“A lot of people said ‘thank goodness it’s not another charity shop’, but most said it was something that had been missing from Wantage and they thought it would be very popular.

“I’d like my business to be successful and make some money first.

“Then I already have a horse in mind that I can lease off an owner and ride him in races off my own back.

“Then if other people who I have ridden for before would like me to ride some of their horses, then I will hopefully get a few other rides.

“I’d like to get back into racing for pleasure rather than because I have to.

“So we’ll just have to see what happens won’t we?”

Whether it is full steam ahead, or via a detour, Mayor’s confidence means that eventually she will surely find the right road to success.



‘IT’S the high of the job – you can’t beat the feeling of riding a winner,’ Leonna Mayor insists.

But she knows that the ups and downs of sport mean that a level head is crucial if you are to make it to the next level.

A life in racing started at a young age for the  22-year-old, whose steady climb has seen her ride at last year’s Royal Ascot meeting, and secure a memorable narrow victory over top jockey Silvestre de Sousa.

She began riding out on weekends when 13, and after turning 16 went to the racing school at Newmarket.

From there, Mayor got a placement with Tony Carroll and was there for a year as a stable lass.

But it was after a move to Phil McEntee’s yard that things started to take off.

“I got my apprentice licence and after moving to Phil McEntee I got lots of rides,” Mayor explained.

“As I’m sure everyone is aware, with smaller trainers the horses often aren’t so great.

“I think my first winner was on my 51st ride, but once it happens it’s such a great feeling. It’s unbelievable.”

It was a comfortable winner as well which made it even sweeter.

“That win was for Peter Charalambous on a horse called Colinca’s Lad at Yarmouth,” she said.

“It hadn’t run for two years and when I went out, the trainer said to me ‘Don’t worry, this will be your first winner’.

“Naturally I thought ‘yeah, of course it will be’, but it was – and he won so easily as well. It wasn’t me, it was the horse – a great ride.”

She added: “In a few weeks I had another winner.

“Racing is a really funny sport like that, because so often you find that you won’t have any winners for a while, but then have a few in quick succession. When you’re on a high, you’re on a real high, but when you’re low, you’re really low.”

A move back north followed when a vacancy at David Nicholls’s yard, one of the leading Flat trainers, came up.

Although she was only there for a while before heading back south for what proved her last job at Alastair Lidderdale’s yard in Lambourn, it was with Nicholls that Mayor’s career highlight came.

“I won four races on a horse called Thunderball, with one of them coming in a Class 3 race at Pontefract over six furlongs.

“They didn’t think the horse would run well, and it was a big price, so that was awesome to win that race.

“My other wins on him was when I was front-running, but because it was a shorter distance, we got left behind a bit at the start. But I didn’t panic and managed to weave through to win.”

She added: “My other real highlight was when I beat Silvestre de Sousa by a nose one day in a real tight finish.

“I got into trouble because I hit it too many times, but it was still very satisfying. It was worth the ban I got!”