I remember the Winter Olympics in 2002. Rhona Martin, skip of the Ladies GB Curling team, had the nation gripped as she and her team variously pushed, slid and swept to victory. At the time the headlines were about the “Housewife from East Ayrshire”, even though I am not actually sure she was married at the time. It spoke volumes for the coverage of ladies’ sport.
Women in sport has, however, been a subject with legs over the last few years.
Three years ago, what price would you have got for women’s Football (cup finals and internationals), cricket (at Lords) and Rugby (world cup runners-up) being televised live? The nation recently stopped for a netball match at the Commonwealth Games (rightly so…..we won again) and indeed female sports presenters and reporters are at the core of both newspaper and the televised media. In almost all cases these changes have been long overdue.
Horse racing, however, is an interesting one. Few sports see women compete upon the same playing field as the men. Racing, however, is a case in point. Every day of the week, female jockeys and apprentices ply their trade throughout the UK. In January of this year, a study reviewing 14 years’ worth of data dropped the bomb-shell that women were just as good jockeys as the men. Alleged strength disadvantages were nonsense and indeed one suggestion was made that some horses go better for ladies than the men.
So, why do the statistics show that male jockeys out-number the ladies 7:1 at the races and 50:1 n the big races.
Hayley Turner undoubtedly the best known of the female jockey has retired once. On her recent return she was still news and still the most well know female jockey on the circuit. All power to Hayley but, in reality, it shows that the girls still have some serious hurdles to clear so far as creating a level playing field is concerned. Why are the likes of Rachel Richardson, Josephine Gordon, Megan Nicholls and our very own Georgia Cox not more widely known?
It seems clear that the ladies have, historically, not been considered equal to the men. However, it would appear unfair to level such an accusation at progressive owners and trainers at this time. Things are changing. Harrowells’ sponsored apprentice, Georgia Cox, gave a very honest view that many apprentices, at some point, will struggle for rides simply because the large number of jockeys in most yards make it more difficult to obtain outside rides which are often essential to ensure jockeys are riding every day during the season.
The Silk Series, pioneered by ARC, describes itself as “a new race series specifically for female jockeys”.
£150,000 is up for grabs and the champion is crowned on Ladies Day at the St Leger Festival at Doncaster.
While the need for such an event to promote our best female jockeys in the sport could be seen as troubling, the reality is that it represents a welcome showcase of talent that we can only hope owners, trainers and agents will take note of. The Silk Series does not shy away from the inequity that has clearly existed within the sport but, rather than dwell upon the same, sees it very much as a shop window for the undoubted talent that already exists and is continuing to develop with every string ridden out daily.
In only its second year, it is a concept that deserves our praise and has attracted nominations for awards from both BT Sport and The Women’s Sports Trust.
So good luck to the ladies in the Silk Series this year.