Still it is written about in critical terms, this immovable force that is in conflict with all that is gone before. I refer to, of course, the slow creep of female emancipation from the bonds of being considered weak and ineffectual in a finish.
There is one very particular reason why it is important to flat racing that female jockeys in general and possibly Josephine Gordon in particular, in the near future, (like now) start to challenge the top established male jockeys for rides in the big races. The particular reason is divided into two interlinking divisions: fifty per cent of the world is comprised of women and fifty per cent of men are becoming fatties. We may have for now a surfeit of young men with both the ambition and body size to become jockeys but as time passes this will inevitably become less so.
Look at George Baker, James Doyle, the jump jockeys who have turned to the flat, the number of established male jockeys who cannot ride below 8-st 7, and, though a percentage of jockeys through history have had battles with the scales, you can see that in time not only will the minimum weight in handicaps have to rise again but so will the weights carried in conditions and Group races.
The short term answer is positive discrimination, as advanced successfully by political parties to get more women into Parliament.
An interesting aspect of Edgar Britt’s autobiography was his assertion – it must be remembered he rode in the days before the 2nd World War and into the late fifties – that the Australian system allowed for a better grounding for apprentices to become professionals than the tried and tested British way. Once a young rider in an Australian stable was considered proficient he, and in Britt’s time I suspect it would always be a ‘he’, would take part in what Britt described as ‘Barrier Trials Races’ alongside stable jockeys and work riders. One of the guiding principles of these ‘Barrier Trials’, as well as educating horses to be smart away at the start, was to bring on young riding talent. What Britt was suggesting was that in Australia apprentices were considered an asset and were helped to become fully-fledged jockeys whereas in this country, and I suspect this criticism still applies, an apprentice has to fight tooth and nail just to be given a chance to advance his or her career.
Females, it must be accepted, are our future. And our future should be kick-started now.
Without the Irish we would not have enough home-bred jockeys for the amount of racing we have in this country, added to which, and this is neither criticism nor xenophobia, we are topped up with jockeys from Brazil, Italy, South Africa etc. What if this supply of foreign ‘imports’ dried up? What if bigger pay packets took our top Irish and foreign jockeys to ply their trade in the emerging horse racing countries, China for instance?
British racing should be making it easier for apprentices of both genders to make their mark on our sport. But it is the female, at this moment in time, who should be recompensed for the centuries of discrimination they have suffered by the administrators of our sport. Women not allowed trainers licences until the 1960’s; women not allowed to ride in races, then only in women only races. The shame of discrimination goes on.
If Ana O’Brien can ride winners for Coolmore, thanks of course to her dad, and Godolphin can supply Josie Gordon with winners, why can’t one of the top trainers, someone of the calibre of John Gosden or Richard Hannon, employ a female as say second jockey, if only to demonstrate to owners, wherein I suspect lies the nub of the problem, that given chances on good horses females can deliver as well as the male.
Of course time might prove females cannot deliver to the same effect as males. But until a good many of them are given the opportunity to fail or succeed we shall never know.
In the short term we need a big money signature race in this country for professional female riders at a top meeting like the Goodwood Festival or Newmarket’s July meeting. There also needs to be at least one race per week, ordinary handicaps and sellers would do, confined to professional female riders. This is all that is needed to be done to steer the sport along the path to righting the wrongs of many centuries.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.