SINCE its inception in 2018, the Dublin Racing Festival has gone from strength to strength with each passing year. Now firmly established as one of the flagship fixtures in the UK and Ireland, next weekend’s two-day meeting is certain to see top class competitive racing throughout.

As Racing Operations Manager at Leopardstown, Jane Hedley is very much looking forward to helping set the stage.

Hedley grew up on a hill farm on the Scottish borders, where her dad was a shepherd. Both her parents took care of her uncle’s hunter, a lovey horse named Dipper.

“He was kept fit during the week trekking the hills checking sheep with my dad, and as soon as I could walk, I would toddle out to meet them each morning, to join Dad on Dipper for the ride back to the farm,” she recalls.

Having acquired her own pony from the age of five, Jane enjoyed plenty of hunting and pony club activities throughout her school years. An early interest in racing came via her parents who were both keen followers.

“Saturday afternoons were ringfenced to watch the televised action each week, and we would regularly attend Kelso races and local point-to-points,” she added.

Aged 15, Jane had her school work experience week. With the local vets being oversubscribed, she instead ended up spending a week with former jockey turned trainer, Swannie Haldane in his small borders yard.

Having enjoyed her first direct contact with racehorses, Hedley returned on weekends and holidays for the subsequent six years.

Reform horses

“Swannie was renowned locally for his ability to reform problem horses, so as well as the racehorses we had a constant turnover of tricky animals,” she added. “Suffice to say I had to learn quickly, and I would find myself riding out up to eight horses each day, covering activities from schooling to hunting and cross-country events. It was a great grounding.”

By this time, she had also acquired her own horse, a former racehorse, whose racing career was extremely brief. “He was tailed off in one run over five furlongs as a two-year-old, before being purchased by my Mum for £800!”, she remembers.

However, he turned out to be the most fantastic riding horse, carrying her hunting and eventing as well as being her first ride in a point-to-point. “Barry” as he was known to his friends, only passed away just four years ago, aged 31, having spent his later years as a granny’s hack. “He was a great example of the life ex-racehorses can have if given the right opportunities,” she added.


Hedley’s point-to-pointing career was brief. Three seasons amassed 50 rides, three winners, four falls and two broken collar bones.

Although a good schooling jockey, it became clear to her early on that she didn’t have the competitive mindset required to follow this path as a career choice.

Having failed to get into veterinary school (“too much riding, not enough studying!”), Jane attended Edinburgh University and gained a degree in Agricultural Business Management.

During this time, she also had her first venture to Ireland, spending a summer living in Newbridge while working for Kevin Prendergast: “I was the only girl in the yard at the time, so it was a sharp learning curve!”

With her interest in training having been sparked, as soon as Jane left Edinburgh, she headed down to Henrietta Knight’s yard, for a six-month placement before returning to run a point-to-point yard in the Borders.

Knight was at the height of her powers at this time, with stars such as Best Mate and Edredon Bleu in the yard. “Best Mate arrived just a few days before me, and I was lucky enough to be given him to ride and look after,” Jane said. “As she introduced us, Hen told me Best Mate would be a Gold Cup horse.”

After leading the Jim Lewis-owned gelding up to win his bumper at the Cheltenham November meeting, Hedley began to believe her!

Grand Annual and Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Edredon Bleu was also one of her regular rides. As well as these great horses, Jane met some great friends during this time, and missed them all badly when returning to the Borders when the six months was up.

Unsettled and fed-up, the subsequent point-to-point season didn’t go well, so she returned south at the next available opportunity.

Over the next couple of years Jane worked for various trainers, including a six-month spell on the Curraghmore Estate in Waterford.

“Lord Tyrone had just returned from the UK and needed some help to establish a yard,” she said.

Administrative roles

From there, Hedley returned to England to work for Alan King, who had just begun his training career from Barbury Castle. She subsequently relocated to Newmarket and began the move into more administrative roles.

While still riding out, mostly for William and Maureen Haggas, Jane enjoyed a summer placement at Newmarket Racecourse, working under then manager Lisa Hancock, and clerk of the course Michael Prosser.

Prosser advised against pursuing a career as a clerk, and in the short term, Jane took his advice. From here, she was lucky enough to land the role as Marketing and Nominations Executive at Shadwell Stud.

“I found myself booking nominations for the great Green Desert, as well as younger stallions which included Sakhee, Nayef, Mujahid and Erhaab,” Hedley says. “This was a really lovely role, which consolidated my interest in flat racing and breeding, but I was missing being “hands-on” and also missing the north.”

After two years there, Jane moved on to work for Mark Johnston in North Yorkshire. She went on to spend six years with the Johnston team, working as a yard manager overseeing a yard of around 35 horses and around 10 staff.

One of seven yard managers, who each had daily responsibility for their horses and staff, she rode out in the mornings, checked over horses and did her reports in the evenings, before collaborating at the lot board to prepare for the following day. During weekly meetings, Hedley would report on her team, putting horses forward for entries when they were ready.

“I learned a huge amount here, not only about training but also about people management and the importance of setting clear goals and targets,” she added.

Good horses

Some really good horses passed through the yard at this time. The best in Hedley’s direct care was probably Colour Vision, who went on to win the Royal Ascot Gold Cup when switching to Godolphin as a four-year-old.

Another favourite was Namibian, who won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot.

“He was a great ride at home but had trouble with corns and a very annoying habit of pulling his shoes off! We put a lot of effort into riding him well and making sure he was using himself properly to try to prevent this,” Jane said.

The horse took this to another level in his second career when he went on to compete internationally in Para Dressage.

A real yard favourite was Jukebox Jury: “He wasn’t in my barn but I’d ride him out on occasions. He was just the most fantastically tough, talented and durable racehorse. It’s no surprise to see him doing so well as a sire of jumpers, and it was great to be re-united with him when we visited Burage Stud on the ITM Stallion Trail a couple of weeks ago.”

Most satisfaction

Hedley says that she probably took most satisfaction from looking after the two-year-old fillies’ barn, as there was a huge sense of motivation from knowing that if you could help these fillies to win, you were giving them the very best chance in their subsequent careers at stud.

She gets a thrill from seeing familiar names popping up in the pedigrees of the horses we see running now.

The Alex Scott Memorial Scholarship for assistant trainers was a scheme which ran annually, giving aspiring trainers the chance to work elsewhere in the world for a month.

Hedley was lucky enough to win this in 2011, and used the opportunity to visit Dubai. Ironically, it was while on that trip that she spotted the advert for a trainee clerk of the course.

This ultimately set her on the path which took her away from the training environment, and into racecourse administration. Hedley joined the Jockey Club Racecourses, and in 2012 qualified as Clerk of the Course for Nottingham and Market Rasen.

She remained at Nottingham for nine years. Market Rasen was traded for Warwick in 2016. Warwick had been through a slightly turbulent period which had resulted in the cessation of flat racing in 2015.

Hedley saw an opportunity to use her new founds skills in managing the transition of the track and race programme to a purely National Hunt venue. That proved a really enjoyable project, with Warwick going from strength to strength since the switch, now recognised as a leading grassroots jumps track.

Local trainers Olly Murphy and Dan Skelton were also hitting their stride at this time and Hedley says that it was great to work alongside them in developing the venue: “On Nick Skelton’s advice, we set up a schooling lane in the old flat chute. The irrigation infrastructure was still in place and so we were able to water the ground to allow schooling on grass through late spring and early autumn. This was hugely popular with trainers who came from far and wide to use the facility.”

Another change

In late 2021, Jane became aware that Leopardstown were seeking a racing operations manager.

Ready for yet another change, it seemed like a great opportunity to combine and consolidate her skills working with what is widely regarded as one of the best dual-code tracks in the sport.

“I was also very keen to return to Ireland with fresh eyes and find out how the sport is being run here. That said, it wasn’t an easy decision to up sticks once again, especially given I’m a little older these days!” she said.

“Thankfully, I have the unwavering support of my loyal terrier Angus, and I have to give huge thanks to Tim Husbands and the wider HRI team for welcoming Angus as well as myself to Leopardstown.”

In her current role, Hedley line manages the track, estate and operations teams: “Track foreman Willie Gibbons has been at Leopardstown most of his life and is amazing to work with. Lauren Conway joined us from Navan and is brilliant in the operations lead role. Niall Moran creates the amazing planting so admired in our parade ring and surrounds.”

With just over a week to the Dublin Racing Festival, Hedley reports that early indications point to another successful weekend:

“Entries are strong, and include seven UK representatives, which is a pleasing increase on recent years. We are delighted to welcome some new sponsors, as well as thanking the existing companies for their continued support.

“Pre-sales are strong and the hospitality sector is completely sold out. General Admission is still available. We strongly advise booking online, but tickets will be available on the gate.

“All we need now is some help from the weather but come rain or shine the stage is set for another fantastic festival. See you all there!”