Trainer encourages female jockeys to take opportunities in France
Gay Kelleway has encouraged women riders in Britain to seize the opportunities available in France after the country's racing authority announced it will introduce a 2kg (4.4lb) weight allowance for female jockeys from next month.
The Newmarket trainer, who remains the only female to ride a winner at Royal Ascot, splits much of her time between the two countries and believes riders considering a move across the Channel would be in demand.
"If I was still riding I'd be over there like a shot," she said. "French trainers love English riders and their work ethic and if you're an ambitious person who wants to get on and feel like you're banging your hands against a brick wall and not getting enough chances, then that's where I'd be."
Kelleway said she was trying to persuade Epsom-based apprentice Rhiain Ingram, who has ridden 17 winners since the start of 2015, to make the switch to ride for her and other trainers in France.
Following France-Galop's unexpected announcement, champion apprentice Josephine Gordon described herself as "a little offended" at a move that would end racing as a level playing field, and while Kelleway regards it as an opportunity rather than an insult she admits she still comes across sexism in the sport.
"There's still a lot of chauvinism about," she said. "I had one owner last year asking what I was doing by putting a girl on his horse and I said to him she's the champion apprentice Josephine Gordon. I couldn't believe it. If Josephine was to go to France she'd be champion jockey."
Lizzie Kelly, the first woman to ride a Grade 1 winner over jumps in Britain, has questioned the decision, believing if Britain and Ireland were to follow suit it would be "farcical" and give the top females an unfair advantage.
"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," she said.
"France is trying to help and I don't know whether it's a step in the right or wrong direction, but I don't think it's the right way to promote female jockeys of such a high standard."
'We are either 4lb weaker or not'
The allowance will cover around 90 per cent of the French calendar but will not include all Listed and Group races, a decision that baffles Kelly.
She said: "So we are weak in normal races and then just as strong in Group races. That makes no sense. It has to be across the board or not at all. We are either 4lb weaker or not. It takes away the change's credibility."
Britain's most successful female rider Hayley Turner reiterated on ITV4's The Opening Show that she would consider coming out of retirement should the measure be in force across the board.
Asked whether she would make a comeback if weight allowances were introduced for women riders in Britain, she replied: "If someone gives you a £20 note you take it don't you, so probably yes. Business-wise you have got to think I would definitely come back."
There are no plans for the BHA to replicate the move, but National Trainers Federation chief executive Rupert Arnold expects much debate between his members.
"When we have discussed this at the NTF one idea we came up was rather than an allowance it would be worth looking at extending the number of rides required to ride out their claim," he said.
"I think trainers feel the female riders who are successful already have establish a position, so to give riders who are already competing effectively an allowance is perhaps seen as a step too far."