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Racing: FIRST LADY OF THE TURF; Top jockey Alex Greaves on her battles in the kitchen, on the gallops and in the weigh room.

Byline: Ted Macauley

THE last thing mother-of-three Alex Greaves would claim to have is an easy life.. and humdinger rows with her husband don't help!

Particularly when she wants to ride a horse he trains and he won't let her.

Jockey Alex is married to Thirsk trainer David "Dandy" Nicholls and as Britain's only woman winner of a Group 1 she feels entitled to a bit of preferential treatment when it comes to a choice from his Yorkshire yard.

And that's where the problem lies, for even if she is guaranteed some rides there never seems to be enough to break up the boredom of domestic chores.

Alex says: "I want to do what Kevin Darley has done and win a St Leger for the North. That's my dream, but I don't think it is going to happen."

And she goes on: "It is frustrating sometimes that people have a prejudiced view of women jockeys.

"But if I worried about it I'd have packed it all in ages ago and stayed at home and looked after the kids.

"This can be a great life with plenty of fun. But it can be very hard work, too, and you just have to stick at it.

"There are, of course, down sides. But there's no point in worrying about them because they are unavoidable.

"It could be that one day you ride a horse and maybe it's not fit or is being run over a distance that is wrong for it.

"And you know, two runs down the line when they are really going good and flying, you are going to get "jocked off" it.

"That's awful and is disappointing. When somebody else gets your ride it can be an upset - but that's the way the game is. And it is not going to change so far as I can see in the near future."

Alex knows that being married to Nicholls does open up opportunities for rides that wouldn't be available to rival women jockeys.

But she admits she still has to fight for them, and reveals: "It causes some real humdingers between David and me.

"It doesn't help that we are both strong-willed. But we do manage to put up with each other.

"The real rows we have are when I want to ride a horse he doesn't want to put me on. And that happens a lot.

"But then at the end of the day, that's perhaps a major part of our success.

"It could be that we wouldn't be quite so successful if we didn't air our views openly and honestly with each other and we just agreed on everything."

34-year-old Alex's hunger for racing big time was triggered when she became the first and only woman to make the Group 1 breakthrough in the United Kingdom when she dead heated on Ya Malak in the Nunthorpe at York five years ago.

"Yeah, it will happen again and a woman will do it - but I don't know when," she says. "There is not such a huge prejudice these days against female jockeys. And that's good.

"It's nowhere like it used to be. There are loads of girls now with apprentice licences.

"We are one of the only sports where women compete against men on equal terms - and I don't want to see that change."

She ferociously defends her right to race on level terms, disputes the idea that women should be given weight allowances and blasts those who feel that it should happen because female jockeys are not as strong as the men.

"Patronising gits," is her uncompromising stance. "That's what those people are, they make out we're only capable of winning if we get an extra allowance," she fumes.

"Well, in my mind, that defeats the whole object. And, anyway, Joanna Badger reckons that if we claim 12lbs, instead of 7lbs, all but two of the girls could not make the weight."

Beating the boys at what is perceived to be their own macho game was American jockette Julie Krone's pastime. She was first to the post 3,500 times.

And she won the Belmont Stakes in 1993 - a segment of America's triple crown - on Colonial Affair.

Two other girls, Patricia Cooksey and Diane Nelson have topped the 3,000 mark between them - a figure well out of the reach of our women.

Alex would love to have jumped up on as many winners as her American role model Krone, but family life, injury and helping to run the yard limited her chances.

She said yesterday: "Last year really was frustrating - but this year has been great - probably the best for four or five years. And that helps because the stable is in form.

"Two years ago I smashed my wrist really badly and I missed most of the season, so then you lose your rides and you miss a year trying to fight to get them back again.

"I've got a lot of them back, fortunately ... but it's too late and you've missed out.

"I really have had a cracking year so far. And, of course, we all want to ride Group winners.

"We all want to ride the best horses in the yard, particularly your own. And, like anyone else, I have ambitions and that's why I'd love to ride and win a St Leger."

She adds: "As for trainers and owners giving women a fair chance, I can see the tide changing.

"Racing doesn't owe me a penny. It's been a magnificent experience - and still is - and I've ridden all over the world.

"I really am lucky because plenty of other people, men and women, have been in racing much longer than I have and have never had the chances I've been given."Ya Malak FACTFILEYA MALAK won 10 times in his career, culminating in dead-heating under Alex Greaves for the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 1997.

A son of Fairy King, Ya Malak won a total of pounds 219,402 in prize-money.

Unfortunately the eight-year-old died just two years later when during an operation for colic he contrated peritonitis.

All his wins came over five furlongs and included three Listed events, the Ring and Brymer Achilles Stakes at Kempton, the Vodac Dash Handicap Stakes at Epsom and the Sandown Park Sprint Stakes.


HUSBAND AND TRAINER: David 'Dandy' Nicholls; FAMOUS FEMALE: America's Julie Krone wins the Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair in 1993; AMBITIOUS: Alex Greaves still has big ambitions as a jockey
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 18, 2002
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