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Hollie Doyle poses at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday. Picture: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

No longer ‘Girls’, they are now grown-up ‘Ladies’

Mike Moon (The Citizen)

The Ladies team of jockeys won the Shergar Cup at Ascot in the UK on Saturday and set off another round of the tiresome debate about the worth of female riders.
The facts are: since a female team was added to the line-up in 2012, the upstart hussies have won the Shergar Cup four times – that’s four out of 11 (with a year off for Covid), for a winning rate of more than 36%.
Of course, jockey invitational events are a bit of a lottery, in that mounts are literally allocated by ballot. Maybe the Ladies have just had a long lucky streak.
Women’s sport is enjoying a golden age of growth and popularity, as evidenced by the media coverage given the current Fifa women’s soccer World Cup and the ubiquity of women’s cricket on television.
Racing is different. For one thing, women jockeys compete directly against men – usually on equal terms. For another, they’ve already been at the forefront of the game for decades.
In racing, the horse provides most of the, ahem, horsepower. Yet the physical, mental and intuitive harnessing of that power is in the hands of the small person perched precariously on its back. And that is a helluva job.
It’s been 50 years since women started encroaching onto the male preserve of “the irons” in racing countries – longer, if sketchily, in the US. Now they’re not encroaching so much as coming with a powerful gallop down the centre of the track.
Yet there is still bias against female jocks everywhere you look in racing, with grumbling about them not being brave enough or strong enough to beat the blokes.
Hollie Doyle is the proof of that being rubbish. In the UK 2022 season, this tiny person finished runner-up in the fiercely contested jockey championship – beating hundreds of men. She is currently lying third on the 2023 log – just one winner behind her husband Tom Marquand (but with a 16% strike rate to his 15%) – and 15 behind leader and current champion William Buick.
Doyle won the Silver Saddle as the highest individual points scorer at the Shergar Cup – the fifth time a woman has snagged this trophy.
Female jockeys – such as Doyle in the UK, Michelle Payne in Australia and our own Rachel Venniker – might be chipping away at prejudices, but there are many obstacles. The most obvious is childbearing duty at a critical age, but even that is not enough to account for such low representation in the weighing room.
Famously, Venniker is the only female riding professionally in SA, while her sisters – Doyle and Shergar teammates Hayley Turner and Saffie Osborne included – make up just 16% of flat jockeys in the UK. In the US, the tally is a less embarrassing 27%.

The Shergar Cup, for all its role in promoting “jockettes” – as they used to be called in SA – is still a nightmare of muddled messaging. It was only this year that the team name was changed from “Girls” to “Ladies”. But they still had to wear pink team silks.