08/10/2011 3:40PM

Arlington Park: Wigmore Hall's jockey Turner no stranger to trail-blazing


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – When Hayley Turner goes to post aboard Wigmore Hall on Saturday, she will become just the third female rider to participate in the Arlington Million, but Turner has blazed wilder trails overseas. She is the first female rider to break into racing’s upper crust in Europe, and her trans-Atlantic trip to ride a horse in a Grade 1 race basically is unprecedented.

“She’s ridden plenty of good horses in big races,” said Michael Bell, Wigmore Hall’s trainer. “The fact that I’m using her says what I think about her as a rider.”

It was to Bell, who is based at Newmarket in England, that Turner, 28, was apprenticed when she began her riding career in 2000. In 2008, she became the first English female jockey to win 100 races in a season, and last year, Turner earned her first mount in a Group 1 race. Last month, in the July Stakes at Newmarket, Turner became the first Englishwoman to win a Group 1 race outright when she piloted Dream Ahead to victory.

“It’s obviously been harder for her to get established given the slight prejudice against female riders in Europe, but having said that, Hayley has done a fantastic job,” said Bell. “She conducts herself well, and more importantly, rides extremely well. I’m obviously a huge fan of hers.”

This will be Turner’s second trip to the United States, her first having come this past spring when she rode three horses at Pimlico in a female jockeys’ challenge. The trip to Arlington could prove more fruitful and lucrative if Wigmore Hall, whom Turner has ridden just once before, can improve upon his second-place finish here last summer in the Secretariat Stakes.

The two other women to have ridden in the Million are Julie Krone and Inez Karlsson. Krone finished fourth on Chenin Blanc in 1991, Karlsson fourth aboard Rahystrada last summer.

Wigmore Hall a happy horse

As for Wigmore Hall himself, the 4-year-old gelding gives his handlers the impression that he is pleased to be back in Chicago for the first time since last August.

“I think he’s very happy to be back at Arlington,” said Gilly Dolman, who has traveled around the world with Wigmore Hall for Bell. “I think he likes it here, and I think he remembers being here before.”

Wigmore Hall can be fairly choosy about his surroundings, and his dislikes might have contributed to the subpar showings Wigmore Hall turned in his last two starts. Wigmore Hall, who finished second to Paddy O’Prado in the 2010 Secretariat, surprised his connections by winning the Group 2 Jebel Hatta Stakes on March 3 at Meydan when racing after a five-month layoff, but his luck went south from there. Bad traffic might have cost Wigmore Hall victory in the Dubai Duty Free, where he finished third, and a trip to Hong Kong in early May did not go as hoped.

“He wasn’t very happy there,” said Dolman. “It’s a tight track there. The turns are right-handed, and he doesn’t care for that.”

Also, Wigmore Hall seemed lost doing his daily training in near solitude at Sha Tin. Back home, in Newmarket, the heath is crowded with horses during training times, and that’s how Wigmore Hall prefers things.

“He’s a sociable horse,” Dolman said. “He likes a lot of other horses around him.”

Meaning Wigmore Hall feels right at home on an American racetrack, where the traffic is heaving during morning training. Wigmore Hall has settled in nicely since arriving here last Friday, and is scheduled for a minor piece of work on the turf course Thursday morning.

Gang’s all here

With the arrival of Cape Blanco and Treasure Beach at 6 a.m. Wednesday, all the international ship-ins for Saturday’s races are on the Arlington grounds. Ziyarid, the French horse here for the Secretariat, arrived late Tuesday might. Because of quarantine restrictions, Ziyarid, Cape Blanco, and Treasure Beach cannot go to the track to train until Friday morning.