HATS, pageantry and winning jockeys with a Y chromosome: it is all part of the tradition at Royal Ascot, this year’s renewal starting on Tuesday. Lizzie Kelly, Bryony Frost and Rachael Blackmore all rode winners at Cheltenham in March but it is now 32 years since Gay Kelleway’s victory on Sprowston Boy in the Queen Alexandra Stakes. What might have been a groundbreaking success has proved to be anything but.
It is, on the face of it, a little embarrassing for Flat racing’s showpiece event. Even Hayley Turner, twice a Group One winner and the most successful British female rider with more than 800 winners to her name, has missed out at Royal Ascot, although she did finish a head behind the winner on Margot Did in the Albany Stakes in 2010.
Hollie Doyle was on the runner-up in last year’s Sandringham Handicap, while Josephine Gordon, the champion apprentice in 2016, was a half-length second on Steady Pace in the Wokingham two seasons ago.
In all the tradition and hidebound formality that sets Royal Ascot apart, this could be seen as one more example of lingering sexism at the meeting where, until a few years ago, women in the Royal enclosure were assumed to be mere appendages of their husbands when it came to the names on their badges. But before jumping to any conclusions, consider this: the great majority of the country’s male jockeys never get a decent chance to ride a Royal Ascot winner either.
Essentially, it is only the elite riders – a dozen at most – who get full books of rides at Royal Ascot, where the horses change from race to race but the jockeys do not. As things stand, no major stable has a female rider as its No 1 and until that changes the next woman to ride a winner at the Royal meeting seems likely to be an apprentice for whom all the cards fall right in one of the handicaps.
That could take 10 years – or, possibly, a few days. Nicola Currie is the leading female apprentice at present and she looks to have one of the best chances for a female rider at the meeting for several years aboard Jamie Osborne’s Raising Sand in Wednesday’s Royal Hunt Cup.
This is one of the most competitive events of the week and the draw could also play a role, but Raising Sand has so much going for him that his current odds of 12-1 look much too big. -Extracts from The Guardian.