Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gender bias? What gender bias?

Gee, I was depressed by the time that I had reached the end of Steve Dennis' column in the Racing Post today, the column focussing on the supposed difficulties faced by female jockeys who try to enjoy a successful career.  Josephine Gordon was the case-study; and if she were less sensible than she is, she might have been tempted just to pack it in now.  But, happily, she isn't less sensible than she is (tautology, I know) and I'm sure that this scare-mongering won't put her off.  In fact, I know it won't, not least because I have noted that she tweeted in response, "For this I'm going to prove you wrong."  (By being successful in future years).  Good on 'er.

I know that we've been through this previously, but there's no harm in re-covering old ground in this instance.  It's too easy to label the struggles of young female jockeys on chauvinism.  Too easy, and too inaccurate.  The simple answer is that it is tough for all apprentices to graduate to the fore of the senior ranks, male or female.  We're told that Hayley found it tough to get to the top, but she didn't fall far short of it, riding two Group One winners, one Grade One winner and many hundreds of winners at lesser grades.  What is less frequently mentioned is that she has done/did far better than the apprentice with whom she shared the title, Saleem Golam.  I'd be surprised if Sal has ever ridden in a Group One race (or Group Two or Three for that matter) never mind won one.  And it's certainly not for lack of ability or industry on his part.  If chauvinism were the significant factor which we are told that it is, it would be have been Hayley, rather than Sal, whose career stalled over the past decade.

Last year we saw four apprentices, three male and one female, fighting out the apprentices' championship for most of the season, with Tom Marquand coming out best.  All four have found things tougher this year, and it's not a gender-related thing at all: it's just what happens, simply because jockeying is so very, very competitive.  Tom - who is the model apprentice, a top-class rider who works hard and conducts himself impeccably - has had a less good year in 2016 than he had in 2015.  Jack Garrity is getting far fewer rides and winners.  Ditto Cam Hardie.  And Sammi-Jo Bell has been off for the second half of the season because of a bad injury sustained in a pre-race fall at Carlisle, but she wasn't getting a massive amount rides prior to that.

Josie will naturally find it harder to get rides when she has no claim.  But all apprentices coming out of their time are in the same boat, male or female.  And it won't be an insurmountable problem for her: as long as she continues to ride as well as she has been riding all year (which she will) and continues to work as hard as she has always worked (which she will) she will have a good race-riding career for as long as she wants one.  She has had to beat an outstanding crop of apprentices to become Champion Apprentice (think Tom Marquand, Kieren Shoemark, Louis Steward, Dan Muscutt, Edward Greatrex, Kevin Stott, Marc Monaghan, Hector Crouch, Shelley Birkett, Georgia Cox, Clifford Lee, Adam McNamara, Michael Murphy, Rob Hornby, Charlie Bennett, Aaron Jones, George Wood, Young Nephew Cobley an' all) and if there were a significant gender bias among the significant majority of owners and trainers, she would not be about to be crowned Champion Apprentice, however well she were riding and however hard she were working.  Simple as that.

There is one, and only one, area in which female jockeys are going to be at a disadvantage to their male counterparts.  This, of course, is the elephant in the room, the elephant whom Steve elected not to mention in his dissertation, just as it is never mentioned any other time the topic is aired in the press: nearly all of the most talented horses in Great Britain, all several thousand of them, are owned by Muslims.  It might be that I have totally misunderstood the way the world works, but I would be very surprised to see a female jockey appointed to a senior position among the riding ranks of a Muslim racing operation, irrespective of how well qualified for job she might be.  Which means that female jockeys don't ride in big races very often.

I have been amusing myself in recent weeks when Godolphin has had runners by trying to guess which jockey will ride them.  It's harder than you think: you'd think that as the team retains two jockeys (William Buick and James Doyle) you'd be able to narrow it down to two on most occasions, but that isn't the case.  When William rides it's easy enough, but otherwise - close to impossible.  Frankie Dettori and Silvestre De Sousa have both figuratively knocked me out of the Placepot in recent days, while I wouldn't have picked William Carson riding the winner of a 10-runner Group Three race at Newmarket on Cesarewitch Day (ie when there were, presumably, at least 36 jockeys there) in the royal blue in a month of Sundays.  However, I am doing quite well as I get it right once in a while: but if I were picking female jockeys, I think that my strike rate would be 0% and set to remain thus indefinitely.

The other area in which female jockeys are at a disadvantage to their male counterparts as regards forgeing a long-term career as a successful jockey is, predictably, another one which is never even mentioned in earnest press dissections of the topic: parenthood.  Many adults, male or female, aspire to have children.  In practice, particularly if they wish to have several children, this is an either/or situation for female jockeys; for male jockeys it is not even a factor.  Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore have about a dozen children each (slight exaggeration, but only slight) and as such they would now be ex-jockeys were they female.

For a female jockey, having several children basically means taking breaks from riding totalling several years, and no jockey's career, male or female, could recover from such an interruption.  (Other than Charlie Smirke or Lester Piggott, of course.)  For a male jockey, having several children does not interrupt the career at all, even though in recent years some of the less committed jockeys have (disappointingly) elected not to ride on the day on which their wife is giving birth (as long as it's a day of lower-grade racing!).  A few years ago Paul Moloney was booked to ride an outsider for us in a novices' hurdle at Newbury on the Friday of the Hennessy Meeting, but (understandably) stood himself down because his wife was having a baby.  That was fair enough - but I did idle away a few minutes by speculating about whether Paul would have attended the birth had it been 24 hours later (when he was due to ride, and did ride, a fancied runner for Peter Bowen in the Hennessy).  Having mulled it over, I plumped for guessing that he would not have seen it.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

you are absolutely right but I dont think the elephant will ever poke its head too far out of the door lets just celebrate miss G's success and hope that many do support her in the years to come