By Jonathan Mullin 7:54AM 20 JAN 2015
LESS than two years after saddling a winner at Royal Ascot, Joanna Morgan has announced she is to quit training. Morgan broke many moulds in a riding and training career that spanned 40 years, and her decision comes just days after Charlie Swan also announced his intention to quit the profession at the end of the month.
“I wouldn’t say it was financially motivated, but I was making a meagre living doing the work of two men and I just feel I’m not able to do that any more,” said Morgan.
“I still have ten years left doing the work of one person, no doubt, but it wasn’t paying. I wasn’t going broke and if I got paid all the bad debts I was owed I would have made a few quid, but, c’est la vie, that’s training.
“The recession did hit, no doubt, but I had 15 of the best owners you could hope for and a nice bunch of horses this season. I would have made money this year, I’d say.”
Morgan, 61, was the first female rider to make a significant impact on the Flat racing scene in Ireland. She was 21 years old and had experience riding in point-to-points in her native Wales before coming to Ireland in 1974 to ride and work for the late Seamus McGrath, who trained at Glencairn near Leopardstown racecourse.
She made an immediate impression in what had been a male-only profession and became the first female jockey to ride in an Irish Classic when she partnered Riot Helmet, trained by McGrath, in the 1976 Irish Derby.
Two years later she made another piece of history as the first female to ride at Royal Ascot when she finished ninth on Gallowshill Boy, trained by Willie Fennin, in the Queen’s Vase, and in 1979 became the first woman to ride a big-race Flat winner in Britain or Ireland when landing the Irish Free Handicap on Frosty Stare.
The following year she was the first woman rider to be placed in an English or Irish Classic when El Cito finished third in the Irish St Leger. She rode more than 200 winners before retiring to concentrate on training – she had been mixing riding and training for 12 years – in 1997.
In her 18 years as a trainer she initially specialised in buying yearlings and preparing them for the breeze-up sales. Her early years from her base in Ballivor, County Meath, were defined by the exploits of the prolific sprinter One Won One. Later she trained winners under both codes and saddled Roca Tumu to win the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2013.
The mother of three was well known for her ‘open air’ approach to training -she let her horses spend as much time as possible out in the paddocks, night and day, instead of keeping them boxed up.
She said: “My decision to retire has not been made lightly. What I once viewed as challenges I now view as problems and the fact I found myself looking forward more eagerly to my first summer holiday in 40 years rather than a runner at the Curragh made me think I’d had enough.
“I realised on Friday, as I listed the owners I had to call to announce my retirement, what a difficult decision this was. They are some of the most decent, knowledgeable people who are also good friends – a rare commodity indeed.
“I’d like to thank my fantastic head girl Marie McCarthy, who has been a linchpin of the operation, and the rest of the staff, vets and farriers past and present. A special thanks must also go to my unpaid farm manager Bertie Cunningham and my long-suffering family, who gave me a wall plaque for Christmas reading, ‘Well behaved women rarely make history!’
“I’ve made many friends, colleagues and business associates worldwide. It’s truly been a tremendous journey.
“I’d like to thank all the owners who supported me in the past. I shall miss talking to the staff at HRI, to the jockeys, the agents. I shall be lonely for my constant companion, ‘hard work’.”
Morgan said that in 18 years of training, One Won One, owned by the late Fr Sean Breen and friends and who won 12 races, including the Group 3 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh in 2002, was the horse she had taken most pleasure from. She said: “He was bred in Argentina and bought in America and, fittingly, took us all over the world.”