“To think that[ trainer] Darren Weir has given me a go and its such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and[ part-owner] John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me.”
Thus spoke Michelle Payne, rider of the 2015 Melbourne Cup winner, Prince of Penzance, after the race on Tuesday.
There was a touch of National Velvet about it all. A female jockey on an unfashionable horse trained in the bush( though Weir is one of Victorias resulting trainers ), winning arguably the worlds most coveted race.
Payne was thrust onto a stage that devoted her the ear of a vastly broader audience than that of merely horse racing participants and adherents. She comprehended the opportunity to give voice to a few rancours that she had clearly been harboring.
Payne described racing as chauvinistic. I am not a discourse analyst but would venture to apply this interpretation to her words: that almost all of the decision-makers in racing are male and that they almost invariably favor their own sex.
How hard has it been for women to make their mark in this male-dominated world? Pony racing in the 21 st century maybe has a stronger female presence than most athletics theoretically open to both sexes, but has it really been any more welcoming? Racings history may offer a useful context for Paynes remarks.
Edwardian racing administrators shared the negative views of their colleagues in charge of other dangerous physical sports, such as the football codes, on active female participation. Female jockeys were unthinkable. This was despite there being a much broader female presence in other branches of equestrianism, such as the hunt, than in physical contact sports.
But it was not only as active participants that female involvement in racing was curtailed. Any betting by them was very much frowned upon. Their participation in sweeps, which involved no analysis of form, weights or measures, rather just mere opportunity, was accepted. Perhaps a side gamble for a pair of gloves was tolerated too.
However, women who strayed into the male crucible of the betting ring were routinely refused a wager by stormy-browed bookmakers, and were led out by racing club officials.
To a certain extent girls were permitted into the more backstage practise of racehorse educate, so long as there was no official recognition of the de facto arrangements on race day. So it was that Mrs Allan McDonald really developed the 1938 Melbourne Cup winner, Catalogue, despite her husbands name appearing in the record books.
At the time the Victorian Racing Club would not allow girls to hold a trainers license. There was still no question of them riding in races nor of strapping a horse.
Famed turf journalist Bert Lillye told the story of a woman who masqueraded as a male jockey for many years on the outback ways of Queensland in the early 20 th century. Only after her retirement did it become public that she was a woman. Its a little hard to believe that her male colleagues had not worked it out before then.
Women( finally) making such a mark
By the late 1960 s the outlook had improved slightly for aspiring female jockeys. Minor bush and provincial clubs occasionally programmed races reserved for amateur female riders. These “ve been given” demeaning names such as The Powder-puff Derby.
Ironically, the dame jockeys were given little opportunity to powder their noses, as no changing room facilities were provided. The daughters were compelled to silk-up in the trees outside the course, or in backs of cars, or in toilets. There was initially no wager on these races, which only franked them as mere novelty acts.
Queenslander Pam ONeill was one of the leading riders on this ad hoc circuit. Years afterward, she competed against men on equal terms with great success.
It was not ONeill, however, who first rode against the men. Appropriately enough, dedicated Australian racings habitual borrowings from the equine culture across the Tasman Sea, that laurel went to New Zealander Linda Jones.
Jones had been vying successfully for a year in open racing when she was invited to ride in Sydney in March 1979 on Northfleet, a horse brought about by her husband Alan. The rules of racing were bent to allow a female to ride in a registered race. The privilege was not initially extended to Australian female jockeys.
Jones arrival was heralded by Sydney newspaper headlines such as Challenger in Mascara. She had several unsuccessful rides in Sydney, well reported in the media, before she won the Labour Day Cup at Brisbanes Doomben racecourse on Pay the Purple.
In the wake of Jones and ONeill a growing number of female jockeys have achieved notable success riding on equal terms. Maree Lyndon, Beverley Buckingham and Claire Lindop were among them. Now, there are too many to name. In fact, modern-day racing is dependent on the female sex to fill the depleting ranks of jockeys.
The male bodys expanding morphology means that there are fewer small boys able to take up race-riding apprenticeships, despite minimum weights having increased about eight kilograms in the last 30 years. The largest percentage of smaller-framed, lighter girls has considered a switch in the majority from son to girl apprentices.
This is particularly the occurrence in country racing and at picnic race meetings in which amateur jockeys ride. In that form of racing, females regularly provide well in excess of half the riders on hand.
However, the greatest breakthrough by a woman in racing at the least prior to Paynes cool-hand performance on Cup day has been achieved by a trainer, rather than a jockey.
As a consequence of her high profile, her squiring by the media and her great success, it is now rarely remembered how many obstacles Gai Waterhouse( nee Smith) had to overcome to take over racehorse train. The daughter of legendary trainer T.J. Smith, in the late 1980 s she marriage Robbie Waterhouse, heir of the great Sydney bookmaking dynasty. But Robbie fell pollutes of the industrys leaders as a consequence of a putative prior knowledge of the infamous Fine Cotton ring-in.
Purely on the basis of her marriage to Waterhouse, Gai was refused a trainers license. Merely after a seemingly endless round of interviews with the principal racing club, and subsequent court hearings and appeals, was she awarded it. Within a few years she became a racing powerhouse in her own right.
Given all this, it is fair to say that the current eminence of women in Australian racing has been no free ride.
This story was originally published by The Conversation .
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