In how many sports do men and women compete against each other on an equal footing? You can stop thinking now, because frankly, there aren’t many. And I’m not counting darts, poker, shooting, fishing or mixed doubles tennis.
Dream Ahead’s victory under Hayley Turner in the July Cup was not only a pivotal moment for racing – the first outright Group 1 win for a female jockey in Britain, and Turner’s first at the top level – but for all sports in this country.
Horseracing stands pretty much alone, other equestrian pursuits aside, in providing a platform for men and women to take each other on at an elite level. The global exploits of Julie Krone and Emma-Jayne Wilson bear testament to this. And it’s something we should be proud of and promote unashamedly.
Of course, Hayley Turner is first and foremost a jockey, not a woman jockey. But to pretend her gender was of little or no significance to her recent triumph, or for that matter to British sport, would have been disingenuous. For that reason I had no hesitation in putting her on this month’s cover.
Racing has a fantastic asset in its capacity to let men and women battle it out for supremacy
Trainer David Simcock claimed the result “was all about Dream Ahead”. From his position this is undoubtedly the case. But what would the public have made of a female racing driver who got the better of Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone, or a female golfer who went toe-to-toe with Lee Westwood at St Andrews? You can’t help but feel that these people would, if they existed, be household names, promoted off the boards and revered widely.
Racing has a fantastic asset, not only in Hayley Turner, but, perhaps more importantly, in its capacity to let men and women battle it out for supremacy on the racecourse. The likes of Cathy Gannon, Kirsty Milczarek and Amy Ryan add substance to the view that our sport should be a role model for others.
Having women-only race meetings is all well and good – a gimmick to increase the coffers, surely, and who can blame racecourses given these economically challenging times – but do we really need these events to say ‘look at us: we have female jockeys’?
There is an argument to say the best promotion of British racing in this regard is any ‘normal’ meeting where both sexes are competing on the same card.
Unlike Hayley Turner, David O’Meara, featured in this month’s Talking To, never achieved a top level success in his riding career. He spent a decade as a journeyman jump jockey before deciding that chasing around the country for low prize-money was not worth the effort.
However, his stunning start to training – over 50 winners and a Group 2 within 12 months – suggests we’ll be hearing a lot more about O’Meara, who has been providing champion jockey candidate Silvestre de Sousa with plenty of opportunities.
Another handler making a name for himself is Rod Collet, who didn’t have to look far for inspiration when it came to choosing a career – his father, Robert, has been collecting big races for the past 30 years, via the likes of Last Tycoon, Whipper and most recently Immortal Verse, who triumphed over his son’s Nova Hawk in the Coronation Stakes.
But if you thought the young Collet had it easy growing up, think again. “Between 14 and 17 I travelled with a lot of his horses to Italy and Germany. It was good experience, but for sure he kicked my arse a lot,” he tells Julian Muscat.
“In some ways it was good for me to have the name of Collet in France. In others, it was quite complicated. People think of you as your father’s son.”