The only way to change prejudice is to do something radical
Rachel Wilson, amateur rider on the Flat, believes female riders should grab this opportunity with both hands to change the face of French racing
The reaction of top British female jockeys when asked about the 4lb allowance being introduced in France next month was a very serious no-no. Why that offended 'look in the mouth of a highly attractive gift horse' reaction? Simple – the wrong people were being asked the question.
Currently 70 per cent of the intake of the foundation course at the British Racing School are female and 50 per cent of the apprentice jockey course intake are female but how many female ridden horses ran on the Flat in 2015? An almost invisible 6.5 per cent. (Source: FlatStats)
The people who should be asked if they would use a 4lb allowance are the young women who make up the vast avalanche of energy, ambition and potential talent who receive the training but never make the 6.5 per cent.
You can understand why the highly talented and successful few feel patronised by the suggestion.
Lizzie Kelly said: "I think realistically when it comes down to it if I was a male jockey and saw Nina Carberry coming up beside me knowing she had 4lb in hand I would be absolutely horrified."
Champion apprentice Josephine Gordon said: "I find it a bit offensive. They’ve spent so long saying it’s not sexism; it’s not really ideal and I think it’s pretty unfair."
Of course individual female jockeys are almost duty bound to reject the idea of receiving an ‘unfair’ bump, but overall, how many female riders are riding at the top level? Hardly any. After Lizzie Kelly was the first woman to ride a Grade 1 winner in Britain – how many rides did she get? Virtually none. In fact her season took a major nosedive.
Ask any serious punter (I have) and they will tell you that when they are assessing a race, a female jockey is generally taken to be a negative. Let’s not even get into why this might be, let’s just accept what we all know to be the case. In the minds of trainers, owners and punters, it patently just is.
We can all celebrate Nina, Hayley [Turner] and Josephine as much as we like but if there are only a token smattering of female jockeys then the battle is quite decisively already lost. Indeed, having a few great female riders makes it easy for those who don’t want change overall to argue that action is unnecessary. What they mean by that is that there are only a few women who are good enough to compete with the men.
I cite the controversial but hugely effective policy that the Labour Party adopted in 1997 of selecting women to stand as MPs through women-only shortlists. To face up to the incontrovertibly unfair situation of women in parliament constituting never more than ten per cent of MPs, and during the 70s and 80s less than five per cent of MPs, Labour decided to address the situation by restricting nominations in contested seats to women only.
Now obviously at an individual level this could be said to be unfair to the able man who wished to be the MP. But to challenge the over-riding and inbuilt advantage men had over women, they decided to give the women a bump. It worked. The end, you might say, justified the means. After the last election 29 per cent, or 191 women, were elected to parliament. In 1996, before women-only shortlists, there were 60 female MPs which is nine per cent.
The point is, where an inbuilt prejudice or advantage exists, be it men as MPs or jockeys, the only way of changing it is to do something radical.
No-one in racing can argue that there is not an inbuilt advantage in the minds of trainers, owners and punters in jockeys being male. That advantage exists – the numbers prove it – and inside the minds of the trainers, owners and punters it is reinforced daily so that it's accepted as normal. Well, ‘normal’ is what is commonly seen and agreed upon, but normal is not inherently fair. To redress it, action has to be taken by those in power to give those without power a fairer say.
So, I say to the female riders in France, grab this opportunity with both hands and use it to show that you can ride winners given the chance. Use it to change the face of French racing so that a woman winning a race isn't a story. And what other way is there to see the Racing Post story about five female jockeys winning New Year’s Day day (It’s ladies' day as five female riders win) as evidence of women riders being other than the norm? If women riders are going to be patronised, let them be patronised with a 4lb allowance.
After all, don’t we give fillies and mares an allowance?