Michelle Payne: rider won 2015 Melbourne Cup on Prince Of Penzance
PICTURE: Getty Images
By Jon Lees 8:46AM 8 FEB 2017
MELBOURNE CUP-winning jockey Michelle Payne has suggested female riders would continue to struggle to reach the top of their profession unless they have a weight allowance as her sport was still “chauvinistic”.
France Galop has announced the introduction of a 2kg (4.4lb) allowance for female jockeys from March, although the right to claim will not be included in Group and Listed races.
Payne made history when becoming the first female rider in 155 years of the Melbourne Cup to win Australia’s most famous race on Prince Of Penzance in 2015 and was only the fourth female to ride in the contest.
Payne supported bringing in an allowance when the issue was raised in Australia, where more than 20 per cent of riders are female, although most of their winners come away from the elite Metropolitan tracks.
She told the Racing Post: “This is a touchy subject as it was looked at in Australia and a lot of the girls had mixed thoughts about it because they want to be considered equals. In my opinion we are not seen as equals so it would give female jockeys a chance to have a go in town.
“In the country a lot of female jockeys in Australia do very well, but not many get the opportunities in town, like the Melbourne areas. With a claim it would make it a lot easier, so I think it’s a nice incentive. I was for it in Australia but it never went through.”
The response in Britain and Ireland, where there are no plans to follow suit, has been mixed, with former champion conditional Lucy Alexander suggesting it was an idea the BHA should look at and reigning champion apprentice Josephine Gordon describing it as offensive.
“I can see how a lot of people would feel insulted but the way I see it is it’s not fair how it is,” added Payne, who subsequently lost the ride on Prince Of Penzance. “I don’t know if it’s different in France but it can’t be too much different if they’re bringing in that rule.
“For me, there is never going to be a leading female jockey in Melbourne because they are never going to get the opportunities as it’s so chauvinistic, but if you were to give them a claim it would be a different story. It’s all about giving the opportunities. If you don’t get on good horses you are not going to be able to prove yourself.”
She added: “If you’re an experienced rider then 2kg is too much, but even 1kg or half a kilo would still give you more of an opportunity to get a chance in those races, as opposed to what a lot of the girls get now.
“I know a lot of girls over here would feel too proud to accept it but in my opinion it gives you an opportunity to prove you can compete against the guys. At the same time if I was to get a claim then a lot of guys who have never ridden a Group 1 winner would say it’s not fair. You can look at it both ways.”
‘Take it with both hands’
Champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls, whose daughter Megan is an apprentice, said: “I’ve always said to Megan if one day an allowance came in it might sway things in her favour a bit. In my view if it was offered, instead of being offended by it, they should take it with both hands if it helps further their career.
“It’s a tough job for girls. It’s a man’s sport in a lot of ways and there are some very talented riders among the girls. For the ones trying to establish a career, it might be worth thinking about.”
Payne now combines training a small string with riding and is planning to visit Britain, where she last rode in 2009, this summer and take part in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup.
“I’m building my team up,” she said. “I’ve gone from four to seven in work and have another two coming this week. I’m really enjoying that side of things. I’m not getting a lot of race-rides, but that’s given me a chance to set up my stables.
“I’m hoping to come back to Britain for the Shergar Cup. I missed last year because I had a bad fall but I hope the invitation will stand again this year. My plan is to come over for July and August if I can.”