Tuesday, 4 July 2017 saw the staging of the first ever Lady Jockeys Thoroughbred World Championships at Bro Park racecourse in Sweden.
The event, which saw nine of the world’s leading female riders compete in a one-day championship, was backed by, amongst others, Benny Andersson from Abba, a longstanding fan of the game, who used to have horses in training with John Dunlop.
It seems apt that Sweden, where so much importance is invested in gender equality, should be home to a new race day intended to showcase female riding talent in the way that male talent is showcased every day at tracks around the world. But, as with all international gatherings, this one brought together the haves and the have-nots, otherwise known as The Jockey From New Zealand and The Jockey From France.
Level playing field?
New Zealand rider, Danielle Johnson, reports that there are usually as many female as male jockeys in the weighing room when she goes to work each day. She is about to finish second in the Jockeys Premiership there and has already won the country’s richest race, the Karaka Million. “I’ve been riding 10 years and I’ve never had a problem [with chauvinism] at all. I’ve been given every opportunity,” she told me.
Then there’s France, where the racing industry is so far from providing equality of opportunity that the ruling body decided to take 2kg off the weight to be carried by any horse ridden by a woman, except in the best races, as a way of encouraging owners and trainers to change their habits.
Maryline Eon, who was sceptical about the plan when it was announced in January, now says it has helped her and feels other racing countries could usefully copy it.
“My first feeling was to think of the boys,” said Eon. “It was a bit unfair on them because they work hard and it was an extra challenge.” She went so far as to say that some of the male jockeys found the proposal “degueulasse”, disgusting.
But the new regime didn’t cause the revolution that some feared and Eon became persuaded of its merits as she saw a gradual improvement in the number of rides and winners for female jockeys. It was especially important for her, as she rode out her apprentice claim at the end of last year and was just starting to struggle for opportunities when the change was made, allowing her to claim once more. It revived the careers, she said, of veteran female jockeys like Nathalie Desoutter and Delphine Santiago who were beginning to think of quitting.
Now she thinks the weight claim is “a very good idea”. When asked if other countries, including Britain, should offer it too, she replied: “Yes, certainly. Already for a male jockey it’s difficult [to get rides] after losing your apprentice claim. And it’s harder for women. So the 2kg gives you the chance to keep going.”
Asked if she was not concerned that the allowance might be seen as official sanction for the view that female jockeys cannot be as good as men and need help, Eon disagreed. “It’s just [to get us on a level footing with] other countries, which are more open and we see women riding normally as jockeys, whereas in our country we have a more macho culture, there are trainers who won’t use you on their horses because you’re a girl. But now you have the 2kg, perhaps you get a chance on a horse and if it goes well … voila! I’ll never be as strong as a boy but one has other strengths.”
When New Zealand’s Danielle Johnson was canvassed for her opinion about the French weight allowance for women, her reaction was instructive. “Holy hell,” she said. “That’s ridiculous.”
The Lady’s Championship, which was held over 5 legs at Bro Park, was won decisively by the French rider, Maryline Eon, who won two races to give her the title over Sara Slot from Denmark.
(source: Talking Horses)