Girl Power to the Fore in Kiwi Riding Ranks
When United States of America President Barack Obama hosted his country’s World Cup-winning ladies soccer team in the White House, he said they’d shown that “playing like a girl means you’re a badass”. His words could equally apply to Kiwi race riders. If you’re riding like a female in New Zealand, chances are you’re winning. By mid-november, three of the top four riders on the New Zealand jockeys premiership were ladies. Established jockey Lisa Allpress leads the table, while Danielle Johnson is third and Rosie Myers is fourth. Only Matt Cameron among the men has a place in the top four. Lisa, Danielle and Rosie are far from the only females doing well, either. Samantha Spratt is seventh and has more black type wins than any other New Zealand rider so far in 2015-16, while Kelly Myers, Alysha Collett, Anna Jones, Samantha Collett and Trudy Thornton are also having good seasons. Their success is far from fleeting, and it reflects a solid run of success since ladies were first allowed to ride in races against men. Riders like Linda Jones, Diane Moseley, Debbie Healey and Maree Lyndon helped pave the way, while in the last decade Lisa and the controversial but highly talented Lisa Cropp, have won premierships. The experiences of female riders has been in the news more than usual since Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup triumph on Prince of Penzance, after Michelle described racing as “a chauvinistic sport”. Lisa 40, who has had stints in Singapore and Japan and ridden at oneoff events around the world, says the experience in New Zealand is quite different. Lisa says the smaller potential pool of riders in a country the size of New Zealand means more females receive a chance, but also that owners and trainers are open to taking on any rider who proves they’re up to it. “We do get a great opportunity here to prove ourselves, “she said. “And if we’re good enough the trainers choose us because we’re good. “In places like Australia, Japan, Singapore, we’re not needed so much, but if you’re good enough you will still get a go.” Trainers have been more than willing to give Lisa a go because of her record – she’s now won more than 1000 races in New Zealand, the only woman so far to have done so. She won the premiership in 2012, and is right in contention again this season. Lisa believes she may have lost some rides in the past for big races due to owners who thought a male rider would be stronger, though that was more the case during her stints in Singapore – and she still rode numerous winners there. She spends a lot of time in the gym working on her fitness and strength to ensure she’s competitive in a tight finish. To date Lisa has won three Group 1 races, though she says her finest moment came in Japan – a country she hopes to return to in due course. She said, “Definitely the highlight of my career was winning a race on Derby Day in Japan this year in front of 130,000 people. I could hear them screaming when I was coming up the straight, it was amazing.” Danielle, who rode 136 winners last season and 95 the season before; now at age 23 is one of the best riders of her generation. She said the experiences Michelle talked about are not ones she’s had in New Zealand. “You’ve got to make your own luck when you get on the better horses,” said Danielle, the daughter of successful New Zealand rider Peter Johnson, who she named as clearly her main mentor. “I’ve found that if you make your own luck and you work hard, you get the results.” Both Lisa and Danielle have proven to be highly skilled and competitive jockeys determined to win – in Danielle’s case, perhaps too much so, as she spent a lot of time suspended last season. Despite this, she was only 18 wins away from winning the premiership.
Danielle continued, “I’m suspended at the moment, but I think this is my first one in six months. Last year I had heaps. It felt like I was out pretty much half the season. Imagine how many more winners I could have ridden!” Expect both ladies to be in the premiership race as the season ends – particularly if they can avoid suspension.