Girl Power to the Fore in Kiwi Rid­ing Ranks

Ladies in Racing - - Con­tents -

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.

Danielle John­son Story by Alas­tair Bull

Lisa All­press

Rosie My­ers

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