Ladies Day at the races

Ladies Day at the races
Michelle Payne rides into the history books

Michelle Payne rides into the history books

All hail Hayley Turner! All hail Michelle Payne!

Two jockeys who have proved that riding big race winners is not the sole preserve of men and boys (whatever certain old fashioned trainers may whisper to you).

Michelle Payne came from last to first to win the Melbourne Cup on a 100/1 shot called Prince of Penzance. For much of the race the eventual winner looked to be racing as you would expect an outsider to perform. But a brilliant delivery by Payne ensured a fairytale climax to the biggest race in Australia.

She is the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup in its 155-year history and only the fourth female jockey to ride in the Cup.

Some of the owners didn’t want “a Sheila” to ride their horse. They owe Michelle an apology.

After the race she paid tribute to the trainer Darren Weir who had booked her to ride. But Weir is a rare man in the notoriously sexist country of Australia and Michelle was quick to comment on what she called the “chauvinistic” culture of horse racing.

She said: “It’s such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of the owners wanted to kick me off. Everyone else can get stuffed [who] think women aren’t good enough.

“I would like to say that, you know, it’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we are not strong enough and all of the rest of it … you know what? It’s not all about strength, there is so much more involved, getting the horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient and I’m so glad to win Melbourne Cup and hopefully, it will help female jockeys from now on to get more of a go. Because, I believe that we sort of don’t get enough of a go and hopefully this will help.

“I would like to thank all of the owners, John Richards specifically, I think he is the main man who kept me on Prince Of Penzance, maybe a few of them who wanted to take me off.

“We just won Melbourne Cup so hopefully now they will be pretty happy with me.”

As they should be.

michell payen thumbs up

The Guardian racing correspondent Chris Cook was spot on with his assessment of some post race comments aimed at the successful female jockey made by keyboard warriors on the social media site, Twitter.

Cook wrote: “I was sorry to see Payne being criticised for speaking up by some people who clearly feel the moments after a big-race success should be reserved for a happy collective celebration among connections with no discordant notes being struck.

“That might be called the traditionalist view from within racing. An alternative view might be that, if Payne believes chauvinism is a problem for racing, she owes it to all other women jockeys (and particularly those who may come to the sport in the future) to speak up when she suddenly finds that the whole world is listening to her.

“It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I incline to the latter view. Part of the reason for that is my feeling that the culture, particularly in British racing, strongly discourages jockeys from speaking out in the way that Payne did. Jockeys here are trained to be publicly grateful for every opportunity and never to complain about being overlooked.

“If chauvinism were a factor in British racing, would it be reasonable to expect female jockeys to speak about it in public? Let’s bear in mind that they have to live in this world which is urging them not to rock the boat, that they depend for opportunities on the very people who would be most upset if they complained.

“You’ll have your own view on whether female jockeys get a fair shake in the game just now. Setting that to one side, I don’t think you can take female silence on this subject as evidence that they don’t suffer from prejudice. It would be very surprising if anyone did speak out.

“That’s another reason why I regret that Payne has been scolded for her words. It was a brave thing to say and I wish racing fostered a climate in which people felt free to speak their minds rather than having to parrot the same politenesses we’ve heard from generations of jockeys.”

Cook is right. Ask Hayley Turner.

A last week, last ditch winner for Hayley Turner

A last week, last ditch winner for Hayley Turner

She’s retiring from British racing this week and rode a winner with her final ride at her local course, Southwell. Hayley battled out a tight photo finish to come past the post first aboard Yul Finegold.

Over the years Hayley has had to convince those in racing that she was as deserving of being booked to ride as her male colleagues. Some trainers were convinced, Michael Bell and Conor Dore in particular were for several years loyal to her. Others wouldn’t hire her simply because she was a girl. And some punters refused to bet on a Hayley Turner ride.

But via my VG TIPS betting tips service, members have won money courtesy of horses ridden by Hayley. As have I.

Her career may have gone off the boil in the last couple of seasons, due in the main to a serious injury from which she arguably never fully recovered. But for years before that she rode winners and her career high came in 2011 when she won the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York aboard the 20/1 shot, Margot Did.

Hayler Turner aboard The Tatling

Old campaigners. Hayler Turner aboard The Tatling

Michelle Payne, 30, goes out on one enormous career high and is now set to train.

She said: “I only want a really small team and being a trainer is such a hard job. I’ve had a hard life being a jockey, but it will be nice to wind down, have a family and train two or three horses. My family are all happy to see my retire, but they’ve been very supportive at the same time.”

I wish Hayley Turner and Michelle Payne well in retirement. Thanks for the memories.

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