Thursday, November 19, 2015

The mystery of the non-existent female jumps jockeys

If you have a minute, you might like to go back to the previous chapter of this blog and read Neil Kearns' comments underneath it.  I'd say that Neil has hit a nail on the head: the modern vogue for everyone wanting to use the same five jockeys is not a good thing at all.  It's so tough for jumps jockeys nowadays because the era of each stable having its own jockey has gone: everyone wants to use one of the 'top jockeys', whatever that means, and the rest struggle.  Our jockey William Kennedy is a prime example.  He was still a conditional when he first rode for us eight and a half years ago (at Towcester on Lady Suffragette in May 2007) and he's been my first choice ever since then.

I've been banging on about how good William is ever since then, but it took him another eight years to break through to the level of getting enough patronage to make a decent living.  And that's not starting from scratch: he was already champion conditional when I first used him.  He's in his 30s now, but it has only been in 2015 that he has been getting any significant volume of rides.  He is in the top ten this current season (which started at the end of April) but it is only this season that he has been within sniffing distance of the leader-board.  I doubt that he's ever had more than a couple of rides at any one Cheltenham Festival - and yet, now that people have woken up to how good he is, he's now supposedly become a top-class jockey.  Which is silly because he's been a top-class jockey for nearly a decade, only without anyone other than us and a few other small trainers noticing.

This brings us nicely to the issue of female conditionals.  At any one time there are masses of conditionals, but it is noticeable that there aren't many female ones.  Lucinda McClure (pictured in the first couple of  paragraphs, with Indira) looked it up and there are, apparently, currently three female conditionals: Lizzie Kelly, Emma Sayer (also pictured with Indira, in this case alongside these words and at Ripon in the summer) and (I'm guessing - I think that she's now a conditional) Lucy Gardner. Why are there so few?  We'll come on to that shortly, but what I think that I am safe in saying is that giving female riders a 3lb allowance wouldn't make any significant difference.  And we're not going to have large numbers of successful female jumps jockeys if there aren't large numbers of female jumps jockeys.

I think that Lucinda hit the nail on the head. Her explanation was simple: there are so few female conditionals set against the number of male conditionals because girls have more common sense than boys.  Basically, over jumps a young rider is likely to pick up many more rides as an amateur than as a professional (and young riders can opt for whichever they chose, bearing in mind that nowadays one is allowed to earn one's living by working full-time in a stable but still ride in races as an amateur) largely because amateurs can ride in point-to-points.  One could sum it up by saying that boys come into it wanting to be a jockey, and they see that as being a conditional, having a 'J' badge in the windscreen of their car, being a member of the PJA, going to the Lesters and telling their fans that they are a jockey; while girls come into it wanting to ride in races, so they retain their amateur status.

Lucinda's theory, which makes perfect sense to me, is that the girls have enough common sense to realise that they'll be eligible for far more jumps races as amateurs, and that making it as a professional is so bloody hard (see the William Kennedy example above) that just settling for riding in races is as good a target as any; and, anyway, there's always the option of turning professional subsequently if they choose.  On the Flat it's different because amateurs can't ride on the Flat (other than in amateurs' races, obviously) so they have to become apprentices if they wish to get rides.  (Hence Emma Sayer, who was formerly champion amateur over jumps, becoming a conditional when she decided that she would ride on the Flat as well).  But over jumps - well, you can get another illustration of what the ones who want to race-ride do by reflecting that Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry, each of whom is good enough to be a leading professional, have both retained their amateur status, which enables them to ride in every bumper in Ireland (where, of course, professionals are not eligible for such races).

Anyway, I think that that sums it up well.  We'd already covered the Flat angle; and the answer to the jumps angle is that, as Neil has pointed out, modern fashions dictate that there is scope for only a handful of professional jockeys to make a living.  The only way to alter this would be to implement Neil's suggestion of capping the number of rides a jockey may take in a year or season, which would be likely to see the number of jockeys, both male and female, rise.  But the two certainties are that (a) this will never happen, and (b) very few of the people who claim to want to address the supposed problem would push for the implementation of this measure anyway.

Now to look inwards rather than outwards, we can spend a few sentences savouring the view from this neck of the woods.  The weather is deteriorating, but we have reached double-figure temperatures today (probably for the last time for quite a while - and I'd imagine that today will prove to have been the last day of 2015 on which I rode out in shorts) and today's rain did not arrive until after morning stables.  The highlight of the morning came when one of the several top-class jumps jockeys who can barely make a living (Jack Quinlan) schooled Zarosa over hurdles.  She hadn't jumped for nearly a year, but she picked up exactly where she left off, which was a joy to behold.  I hope that she will run in a novices' hurdle either at Lingfield on 1st December or at Leicester on 3rd December.

Before then we shall have Koreen running at Chelmsford this evening.  He's been there previously (as you can see in this paragraph) but the weather was nicer then.  (It was the Wednesday of Royal Ascot week).  He's been back to Italy since then. He came over from Italy in the summer but didn't cut much ice so went home again, but I hope that he's in better form now.  He took the journey very badly the first time and arrived very light, and still hadn't really fully picked up by the time that he went home again.  Anyway, the upshot was that, with Italian racing in a major decline, his connections decided to draw stumps with him, so he's back here for good now.  Let's hope that that really is for good in every sense, rather than just for good in the sense of time; if it is, you'd hope that he would be very competitive tonight, because it's not a very strong race.

1 comment:

smallbutmighty said...

Isn't Bridget Andrews a female conditional now? Rides successfully for Dan Skelton?