Remembering a milestone racing anniversary

Today, 15 July 2018, marks 40 years since the first New Zealand women rode against men at a totalisator meeting.

Last week, through a happy quirk which sees me now working in the same faculty, I asked former National MP Professor Marilyn Waring about her recollections of how things played out back then.

“I remember lots of it,” she said, adding that Linda Jones, who was the face and driver of the movement to get women licensed, had come to her as a constituent of her Waipa electorate.

“Linda had applied two or three times for a licence to the Racing Conference, she’d ridden miles of trackwork and she wasn’t the only one,” Professor Waring said.

“She showed me the correspondence they’d had and the main reason the Conference gave every time was that there was no separate toilet and changing facilities and racing clubs couldn’t afford to put them in.”

Here, she paused to allow those words sink in, before saying wryly, “As we said, how much did it cost for a curtain, if they were really that fussed.”

What played into the hands of Linda Jones and the other women wanting to ride was an election promise from National in the 1975 election.

“The National party had a commitment to establish a human rights commission,” Waring explained.

“And when that draft bill was ready, I sent a copy with a very polite letter – and it was – to the NZ Racing Conference which had always been split on the matter.  There were a couple of good guys in there but they kept being out-voted.”

“I drew the attention of the organisation to the equality in employment, or discrimination in employment clauses in the bill and suggested, that given their treatment of women who were applying to have licences, they should have a copy of the bill because they would probably need to make a submission if they wanted to continue with their particular position,” she said.

“Linda tells me that, at the meeting of the board, the letter was received and almost immediately someone said, ‘well we’re not going to have any choice are we, so we might as well move to do it now’ – and that’s what happened.”

At the time, as a local MP, she said attending race-meetings was something she did regularly because it was where people were.  She also remembered a number of studmasters and trainers being within her electorate.

These days she is a little more removed.

“It’s not like I pay a great deal of attention, but I get a thrill whenever they’re top of the table,” she said.

When the history of women earning the right to compete against men is recalled the part Waring and Linda Jones played is, rightly, to the forefront.  Likewise the fact that licensed Canadian Joan Phipps put a burr under the saddle of the NZ Racing Conference when was brought over to compete in 1977 – they couldn’t deny her a licence and she struck a blow for the movement by riding a winner while she was here.  

Then 15 July 1978 rolled around and the first of the Kiwi girls hit the track.  

First up on that auspicious day was Joanne Hale riding in a hurdle race at Waimate.  In what is now an awesome piece of synergy the race was won by King Bard ridden by Jim Collett, father of this season’s premiership winning jockey Samantha.

Jockeys are renowned for having elephant-like memories when it comes to their winning rides and, Jim Collett had no trouble recalling that day at Waimate 40 years ago.

Those watching our often depleted jumping ranks would probably find it amazing to know that 14 hurdlers went to the start that day.

Collett said there was little or no stick given to Hale, “jumps riders are a bit different, they’re a bit quieter and they tend to look after each other,” he said.

Another interesting fact he dredged up from the day was that there was a false start in the race.

“We had to go back and jump the first fence again, because a gate didn’t open,” he said.

Collett could give chapter and verse about the brilliance of his ride to win the race, but today is all about the women!  My memories are centred around Jo Hale and the fact that about six months after that momentous day I was lucky enough to get to know her.

At the time I was (allegedly) attending Canterbury University but, in reality I was hanging out with my best mate from secondary school who was working at Barrie Taggart’s stables and flatting with Jo Hale.

She had an impact on both of our lives at the time.  My friend remembers just how much: “She picked me up on Riccarton racecourse when I was just a kid potentially headed down a bad path and taught me the value of hard work; the need to be smart; that class didn’t really account for much; how to look people in the eye and the power that comes from that and that you should always be picked on talent, not gender or whatever else.”

Those were pretty big life lessons for a teenager, and as my friend added, there were a whole lot after us that she inspired too, including her own daughters.

My strongest memory is that she pushed me so far out of my comfort zone I found myself doing something that, at that age, I never would have anticipated.  She made me get over my timidity and actually believe I could stand up in front of a crowd and speak….it wasn’t pretty and no one but Jo could have given me the self-belief to do it.

Jo didn’t talk much about that first ride – it was more about living in the moment – but I do remember one conversation we had about wanting to be the first to do something.  She said that was part of what drove her and found a newspaper clipping which quoted her to that effect. 

My time in Christchurch was short-lived and later contact with Jo was through the ubiquitous Facebook.

In the intervening years and now known as Jo Giles, she had remarried; had a family; represented New Zealand at pistol shooting; competed in motor-sport; entered rock ‘n roll contests; run for parliament; started her own local body political party; run for mayor of Christchurch; and presented a TV programme on Christchurch TV.

In February 2011 she was one of the victims of the Christchurch earthquake in the CTV building.

Her contribution to racing is commemorated with a plaque at Riccarton racecourse. Those who she inspired remember her regularly as the larger-than-life character she was – we thought she was indestructible.

Photo: The writer “horsing around” with Jo Hale in Christchurch in 1979.

 

 

 

 

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Racing policies left in the gates

I had every intention of sharing and analysing the racing policies from each party in a timely fashion leading into Saturday’s election, but the pollies didn’t make it easy.

 

My initial requests were sent back in June. How hard could it be, right? My expectation was that there would be – at the very least – a document from the previous election. It could’ve been dragged out from wherever it was hidden away,  brushed off, tarted up and sent back out into the world. But no, it wasn’t that easy.

 

At this stage, I have to give a vote of thanks to the much-maligned Greens, who at least got off their butts and provided something in the way of policy.  Even if it did threaten to do away with the Racing Minister.

 

Interestingly, with the exception of Winston Peters, I believe that most of the other parties would (at least inwardly) support that move. They don’t really like racing people – it probably comes down to lack of understanding around the Racing Bill and how much government can actually do for them.  Answer: not a lot!

 

They also point to industry hierarchy opening encouraging the industry to support NZ First purely based on their racing policy. That policy hasn’t changed greatly in the past three years but, when I emailed some questions asking for more detail around how the stated goals would be achieved I was told the query had been forwarded to the senior media team.  

 

All I can say is that the senior media team must be pretty damned busy putting out all the fires in Winston’s wake because in spite of several follow-up emails I am still waiting.

 

Labour’s racing spokesman Kris Faafoi was pretty proactive responding to my initial request and, again after several follow-ups, the policy did appear.  He was also happy to address any questions around it.  I emailed some but again…still waiting.

 

The Nats, with our current racing minister David Bennett, should’ve been way more proactive. They are the guys with their fingers on the pulse and the minister should be across industry concerns.  I lost count of the interactions I had with his office (and the mind-numbingly moronic replies).

 

By the time I got the email advising me their policy was up online I had pretty much lost the will to live.

 

Meanwhile, Winston managed to steal a march with a story appearing online which erroneously claimed his was the only party with a racing policy. This was then followed by another story – which was basically a different version of the same story churned out every three years – where Sir Patrick Hogan extolled the industry to support Winston. Purely based on his “support” of the industry.

 

Just a matter of days before the election Winston is looking likely to – once again – be the Kingmaker.

 

Whether racing will be any better off is anyone’s guess.

If you do want to check out what Labour, National and NZ First have to offer check out their racing policies:

 

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/nzlabour/pages/8556/attachments/original/1504503634/Racing_Policy.pdf?1504503634

 

https://www.national.org.nz/racing

 

http://www.nzfirst.org.nz/racing

 

Greens would ditch Racing Minister

A seemingly simple request of our major political parties certainly confirmed that racing doesn’t really rate with our politicians. In fact, the Greens say they would go as far as disestablishing the Minister for Racing.

We are not entirely friendless in Wellington – NZ First proudly includes its racing policy on its website, but ask a few questions about possible implementation and clarification of some aspects and you’ll find yourself waiting.

Last month – and really early last month – I sent my questions around policy off to the relevant people at the major parties. Most responses were timely and promised policy would be forwarded once released.  In all bar one case, and that includes NZ First’s response to my questions, I am still waiting.

It was the Greens who were the first to come through.  To my initial request Barry Coates, identified on the website as their racing spokesperson, replied there was no standalone policy but promised extracts from other policies which related to racing.

The one-page mishmash of policies duly arrived acknowledging the fact that racing isn’t an issue on which the Green party has a high profile but that they recognise the role the industry plays in the economy blah, blah, blah.

Hardly surprisingly they have an interesting take when it comes to the funding of the industry and the one pager states: “The Greens believe any government assistance should go towards those parts of the industry which are struggling to survive, and not to those which are already successful.”

In the Greens opinion the government should:

“Require that some of the funds held by the Racing Board be released to meet the needs of racing in a fair and equitable manner before the taxpayer is called on to subsidise the industry.

“Stop the practice of funds from non-casino gaming machine gambling going towards premier race stakes, and divert such funding to the development of racing infrastructure particularly to support struggling and rural racing clubs.”

Rather than delve into how the industry is actually funded and provide any useful policy around racing the Greens would rather focus on the dangers of gambling; regulating to allow only those forms of gambling that research shows causes little harm to continue and amending legislation to ensure the primary focus is the elimination of gambling harm.

Based on the research I have read, including a recent paper linking domestic violence with addictions which included gambling, we would be kissing goodbye to pokies and any associated benefits for racing,

It was buried in the segment on gambling where the Greens labelled their intention to return to the days where racing came under the Department of Internal Affairs, and that Minister’s portfolio.  It was a time where racing was seen purely as a gambling medium where the greyest of the grey people in Wellington looked blandly oblivious when faced with the human aspects of the industry.

That is the gloomy era to which the Greens wish us to return. On the positive side, given recent developments, those forced out of the industry should be able to fib to Work and Income to ensure they milk the most out of any benefits they may have to survive upon.

The Greens also include policy around animal welfare in their one pager relating to racing which includes establishing a Commissioner of Animal Welfare. The Commissioner will have the power to review and report on animal welfare codes and regulations “to protect animals in Aotearoa New Zealand from suffering due to the direct or indirect actions of humans.”

The final area covered gives an insight as to how the Greens view our industry and is termed “animals in entertainment.” Under this clause the Greens will “require codes to make publicly available the numbers of animals bred, raced, injured, euthanized and re-homed or retired from racing through birth to death reporting.”

Perhaps if they were a little more au fait with the industry they could find most of those numbers which are a matter of public record, at least for the thoroughbred code.  Breeding numbers; racing numbers; horses injured or euthanized on race day; and horses at stud are all able to be found at the moment. In addition to this, NZ Thoroughbred Racing is currently developing its welfare policy and encouraging compliance from breeders, owners, and trainers to ensure once a non-breeding horse is retired from racing its future direction is tagged.

 

If nothing else the one pager indicates the Racing Board’s current government relations appointee either hasn’t found his way to the office of the Greens’ racing spokesperson or also has a tenuous grasp on the needs of the industry.

 

As we lead up to the election I will add the policies of the other parties as received.