Girl Power

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 19, 2008 in General Discussion | 1 Comment >>

GONE are the days when the jockeys’ room was filled only by short men with drawn faces and bodies desperate for a hearty roast dinner.

Now there is a separate room bulging with bright young women who are proving they can more than match it with the nation’s elite male riders.

Big-race victories this spring by Clare Lindop, Michelle Payne and Libby Hopwood, proved that the age-old adage of “it’s a man’s world at the track” is rapidly diminishing.

Add these names to the likes of Kathy O’Hara – who rode Rapala to victory at Warwick Farm yesterday – her sister Tracy O’Hara, Nikita Beriman, Linda Meech, Leanne Henry, Bethany Honeysett, Mandy Raedecker, Amy Taylor, Kayla Stra, Chloe Chatfield … and suddenly racing has a jockey revolution on its hands.

And it seems many of the nation’s biggest punters are warming to the abilities of the fairer sex, with Sydney’s Sean Bartholomew revealing yesterday that his ratings are favorable to female riders.

“I don’t intentionally have any gender bias but female jockeys come up very well on my ratings,” he said. “Horses seem to really run for them. If I like a horse and a female jockey is riding these days, I do not get worried, I actually prefer them in many cases.”

Beverley Buckingham, who won a number of jockey premierships in Tasmania, brought women riders into the spotlight, but Clare Lindop has taken their profile to the next level.

Lindop has won a metropolitan jockeys’ premiership in South Australia and claimed the second Group One of her career, aboard 100/1 outsider Rebel Raider in the Victoria Derby – knocking over the hot favorite Whobegotyou.

The win startled the racing fraternity and even prompted Bart Cummings to book her to ride Moatize in the Melbourne Cup. Lindop is the benchmark. A role model for most women riders.

Young South Australian jockey, Libby Hopwood, out-rode her rivals in a national apprentices race at Canterbury last week, and was quick to point out her admiration for Lindop.

“I know I look up to Clare and I think most of the girls do, too,” Hopwood said. “She is at the level we all aspire to and the best thing is she is always helpful in the room and always there for advice when needed.”

Several hours before Hopwood nudged out Chloe Chatfield in the apprentices race last week, 21-year-old Victorian hoop Michelle Payne out-muscled the Darley-owned Imvula to win the Bendigo Cup aboard Banana Man.

“There are a fair few girls riding in Victoria at the moment so there are normally a few girls at each meeting,” Payne said. “We might not get as many opportunities as the boys but we are certainly holding our own.”

Kathy O’Hara was Sydney’s leading apprentice in 2004-05, and yesterday, booted home a winner for trainer Guy Walter, a strong admirer of female riders.

“A lot of female riders are coming to the fore at the moment,” Walter said. “Whether it’s a boy or girl jockey is irrelevant in my books. Look at the three-day eventing at the Olympics, they don’t make the fences any shorter for the female riders.”

O’Hara has established herself as a fierce competitor among the Sydney riding ranks and says she is delighted to see more and more girls becoming jockeys.

“Racing has always been a male-dominated industry, especially in the jockeys’ ranks. It has always been pretty much that way,” she said. “So it was really satisfying to win the Sydney apprentices’ premiership.”

“There were people saying that I couldn’t do it. But I did and I think it shows that we can hold our own. Support of one or two good stables is very important. That support is vital for other people to realise that there are girls out there who are as good if not better than the boys.”

“I’m very lucky to have Guy Walter and Bobby Thomson willing to put me on their horses. The rest of the rides I get is from the success I’ve had with them. The girls have had a great spring. Take a look at Clare Lindop, who won the Derby. It makes people realise that we can ride just as well as the boys and it’s only going to make it easier for other girls to follow.”

The growing number of female jockeys has forced many historic race clubs to expand facilities to provide separate change rooms for the fairer sex.

Prior to 1970, there wasn’t a female jockey to be found on a metropolitan track, and clubs only needed a boys’ room … times have changed.