Should we mark International Women’s Day in racing?

It’s International Women’s Day and I am somewhat conflicted as to how, whether or even why we should mark the occasion in the racing world.

While it would be great to think racing clubs would embrace and opportunity to celebrate the women in our industry making a fuss just one day of the year does appear somewhat patronising. I’d like to think that racing in New Zealand had evolved sufficiently to recognise that women are just as capable as men.

It’s been a long 40 years since women won the fight to compete as jockeys here and most would have no recollection of those early days of using caravans as changing rooms and being an on-course oddity.

Over the past four years women have either won the jockeys’ premiership (Sam Collett last season; Lisa Allpress in 2015-16) or finished second (Alysha Collett 2016-17; Danielle Johnson 2014-15).  This season Lisa Allpress is currently leading the way, with Sam Collett poised to make a challenge sitting fourth.

It is probably safe to say that Kiwis have embraced female jockeys with more enthusiasm than our Australian counterparts.  Yes, they have women jockeys – one of their most prolific winners is Kiwi ex-pat Linda Meech – but they are not as visible in big races as they are here.  Michelle Payne’s heartfelt comments after her Melbourne Cup win demonstrated the depth of frustration that women in Australia weren’t being given a fair go.

With that in mind I didn’t find it surprising that Sky Racing in Australia decided to mark International Women’s Day with an all-female team presenting their racing.  It seemed to smack of paying lip service to the event – very little effort required on their behalf for a little bit of feel-good.  Call me cynical, but if International Women’s Day fell on a Saturday would they have been as eager to show their support with an all-women presenting line-up on their key race day?

Perhaps I am being a tad harsh, after all Sky Racing did launch a new show earlier this year called Women in Racing, hosted by Lizzie Jelfs.  It might be another case of lip service but at least they are leading the way when compared with our own Trackside!

So, what is happening in NZ racing to mark International Women’s Day?  As far as I can ascertain, a big fat nothing.  And this is where I am conflicted.

In some ways I love the fact that women in our industry are so much an accepted part of the landscape that we don’t feel we have to make a song-and-dance about their involvement.  But then I also believe we are missing an opportunity to celebrate the incredible women who have done the mahi to ensure this has happened.

Why not acknowledge Linda Jones for not backing down; bow down to Marilyn Waring for taking up her constituent’s case and enjoying the battle; and remember those early riding pioneers who set the stage for today’s women jockeys?

Wouldn’t it be great to remember the likes of Rita Jackson, Freda White, Margaret Bull and Kay Bowman (forgive my Central Districts bias but these were the names of my childhood!) who, in their day, were that rare thing, the female horse trainer?

Earlier this week a survey was launched by the NZRB in conjunction with the codes which aims to address the level of engagement of women in all facets of the racing industry.  The survey is anonymous, though one friend did comment that having to respond with her age, location and role in the industry did make her feel as though she had pretty much put her hand up and named herself!

The survey can be found here and all industry participants, no matter what gender, are being asked to take part.

As an acknowledgement of International Women’s Day I guess it is better than nothing!