The spotlight will fall on the female riders at Trentham and Ruakaka on Saturday. This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the first occasion New Zealand women rode against their male counterparts.
Vivienne Kaye at Trentham and Joanne Hale, Joanne Lamond and Sue Day at Waimate were the initial trailblazers, on July 15, 1978.
Just a week later, Day (now Sue Walsh) became the first to beat the males at their own game, when winning on Jaws, who paid $15.50, at Timaru.
Over the next year, another 13 female apprentices, including Linda Jones, would win races in New Zealand and bring significant change to the racing landscape.
However, Sue Day was not the first female to win a race against male opposition in New Zealand. That honour belonged to visiting Canadian jockey Joan Phipps, who won a race at Te Awamutu, at her first attempt, in November 1977.
Phipps, who had been riding as a professional in Canada, was making her second trip to New Zealand, to ride in a lady riders series, and had also applied to ride against the males the previous year. Her initial application had been deferred by the New Zealand Racing Conference, which had needed some convincing to license female riders.
The Racing Conference allowed females to be registered as probationary riders in July 1977 and had no grounds to refuse Phipps a licence on her second visit.
Women had been riding at official race meetings in North America from 1969 and Diane Crump had a mount in the 1970 Kentucky Derby.
However, while New Zealand administrators were slower to licence female riders, it is doubtful whether any other racing jurisdiction has accepted women riders as quickly and as successfully as New Zealand.
At a time when there have been suggestions of a quota system for female board members in New Zealand, it is worth noting that females make up 43 percent of New Zealand’s licensed jockeys and have been paid the same as their male colleagues from the outset.
They have long been regarded as a normal part of the New Zealand racing scene and their impact is illustrated by the jockeys’ premiership for the 2017-18 season, which ends this month.
Female riders Sam Collett, Alysha Collett, Danielle Johnson and Rosie Myers fill four of the top six places on the premiership and Sam Collett, who has had more than 1100 rides this season, is assured of winning her first premiership.
It will be the sixth time a female has headed the New Zealand premiership. Lisa Cropp won three successive premierships from 2005 and Lisa Allpress topped the premiership table in 2012 and 2016.
Sam Collett has won nine Group or Listed races this term and the female riders have recorded 45 black type wins, with 22 of those coming at Group level.
Sam Spratt’s wins this term include the New Zealand Two Thousand Guineas, New Zealand Cup and Thorndon Mile and Trudy Thornton – Sam Collett’s mother – and Danielle Johnson have also won l Group I races this season.
In contrast, a study released this year showed that females make up only 11 per cent of the professional riders in the UK and rarely gained opportunities at the top level, while French racing authorities have introduced a “female allowance” to create more opportunities.
Females have had greater opportunities in the United States but only a handful, most notably Julie Krone and Rosie Napravnik, have made a significant impact at the top level.
Krone, who retired in 2004, won more than 3500 races, including a host of major races but remains the only female to win a Triple Crown race and was the first of only two to record a Breeders’ Cup victory.
Despite Crump being an early Kentucky Derby flagbearer, only five other females have ridden in the race and none has finished closer than fifth. Napravnik, who has also retired, is the only female to have ridden in all three legs of the Triple Crown.
Female riders in Australia have not been able to make the same impact as their NZ counterparts, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, though Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup win was a major boost.
Jamie Kah is dominating the Adelaide jockeys’ premiership this season but Stephanie Thornton (9th) is the sole female in the top 20 on the Melbourne metropolitan premiership and Rachel King (9th) and Kathy O’Hara (20th) are the only females in the top 20 in Sydney.
Linda Jones was the first female to win against the male riders in Australia and was also the first to win a black type race in Australia and fellow Kiwi Dianne Moseley was the first female to win a Group I in Australia. Kiwi jockey Maree Lyndon was the first female to ride in the Melbourne Cup and Linda Ballantyne the second.
TIMELINE FOR FEMALE JOCKEYS IN NEW ZEALAND
NZ Racing Conference agrees to allow females to be registered as probationary riders, under the same criteria as males.
November 1, 1977
Canadian rider Joan Phipps becomes first female jockey win a race against males, on Daphalee at Te Awamutu.
July 15, 1978
NZ women ride against males on race day for the first time.
July 22, 1978
Sue Day, then aged 21, wins on Jaws at Timaru – first win against the males by a female Kiwi rider.
1978-79 season (August 1- July 31)
14 female apprentices ride winners during the season
Linda Jones wins the Group III Queen Elizabeth Handicap at Ellerslie
Linda Jones wins the Group II Wellington Derby on Holy Toledo.
Donna Clark became the first female rider to win a race over jumps.
Linda Jones becomes the first female jockey to win a race against males in Australia.
NZ rider Dianne Moseley becomes first female jockey to win a Group I race (Doomben Cup) in Australia.
Maree Lyndon becomes first female rider to win a Group I race (NZ Cup) in New Zealand.
Trudy Thornton (nee Archer) becomes first woman to ride in Great Northern Steeplechase.
Maree Lyndon, who rode successfully in Sydney during the 1980s, wins Adelaide Cup on Lord Reims and becomes the first female to ride in Melbourne Cup when unplaced on Argonaut Style.
Maree Lyndon becomes first female rider to win an Auckland Cup, on Miss Stanima.
NZ rider Kim Clapperton wins the Malaysia-Singapore jockeys premiership.
Leanne Isherwood becomes first female rider to win a Wellington Cup, on Dancing Lord.
Debbie Henderson becomes first female jockey to win the Grand National Steeplechase at Riccarton, on Noble Express.
Tina Egan becomes first female jockey to win the Great Northern Steeplechase at Ellerslie, on Sydney Jones.
Lisa Cropp becomes the first female rider to take the NZ jockeys’ premiership, with a record tally of 194 wins, the first of three successive premierships.
Lisa Allpress, now a dual NZ premiership winner (2012 & 2016), becomes first female jockey to top 1000 wins in New Zealand.