Tuesday 19 September 2017

Well-meaning idea tells girls they are the inferior half of weighing room

Favourite Colour Squadron and rider Mark Walsh in full flight during the PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase at Punchestown. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Favourite Colour Squadron and rider Mark Walsh in full flight during the PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase at Punchestown. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

As a student, I long envisaged I would write about sport for a living, but had no interest in racing until I started frequenting the bookmaker's out of boredom during college.

That BoyleSports in Whitehall will always have a special place in my memory. I met many friends for life there and it had the bonus of being far more comfortable than the squalid house I lived in nearby.

Until punting horses became the norm, I expected to write about League of Ireland or maybe even Gaelic Games. I reported on football for the 'Tuam Herald' and Sports Editor Jim Carney used me for the Galway ladies' matches.

Some friends sympathised with having to watch girls play sport. I was unsure what to expect, but developed a growing respect for the talents of these sportswomen.

With such sports, women are not endowed with the strengths of men. They are statistically smaller, weaker. Such is nature. Racing, where kindness can prevail over brawn, is not quite the same. There are hardly any sports where men and women compete as equals and the anomaly that is racing is to be cherished in this regard.

True, there is only a handful of lady riders readily recognisable, but how many times has Nina Carberry been relied upon to get punters out of jail in the bumper? Katie Walsh rode a double at Cheltenham in 2010; both she and Nina have won the Irish National.

There is an argument that certain steeds perform better for girls than lads. The case of Geological recently is interesting.

By the time Michelle Hamilton first steered, he'd lost 20 races on the bounce. She won on him at 8/1. Michelle got off and he ran thrice for male riders, finishing unplaced each time. Damien English then used Ana O'Brien and he scored at 20/1. This may be coincidence; English didn't think so.

There has been mixed reaction to the news that France is to bring in a 4lb weight allowance for female jockeys in nearly all races from March, a move the France Galop president hopes will dramatically increase opportunities.

There are around 100 pro women jockeys in France, roughly one sixth of current licence holders. Hayley Turner, a Group One winning Flat rider, said it would be "unfair on the lads". Top apprentice Josephine Gordon tweeted that she had long defended the sport for not being sexist, but had to ask: "How is (a 4lb allowance) not sexist?"

Bring in the complications of handicapping and ratings - and is it fair for fledgling riders who are able to claim an allowance to be jocked off for lady pros?

An example to which I frequently cite is that of Rachael Blackmore, whose bold decision to switch from amateur to professional has paid off beyond the expectations of pretty much everyone. Precious few ladies are brave enough to go pro.

From a relative irrelevance, she has established herself in no time. She has ridden 25 winners this season, 12th in the Irish standings restricted to professionals and more than her boyfriend, Brian Hayes, has managed. Seventy-nine trainers have used her, including Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.

Blackmore may appreciate her achievement is not a qualified one, but she'd "grab a females' allowance with both hands". Kate Harrington backs it too. Perhaps, just like the men, they want winners at any cost, but it would surely send the wrong message, whatever the intention: you're a girl so you're not as good.

Meanwhile, Buveur D'Air could soon be favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, as low as 7/2 after his win on Saturday, with 2014 winner Jezki as short as 6/1. Neither would have been mapped in the market a few weeks ago. It's been a strange reason.

RIDE OF THE WEEK: Mark Enright's stealthy move as they lined up to kick Samanntom into an easy lead at Clonmel on Thursday was tactically superb. The 3/1 shot was never headed.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Cork got a great crowd, Leopardstown the same and today. He's a wonderful horse; it's great to see people come out to watch him."

Ruby Walsh yesterday on Douvan.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "Oakley Hall is our 150th Irish winner this season, well done to all the team and thank you to all our owners!"

Gordon Elliott (@gelliott_racing) reaches another landmark yesterday.

GAMBLE OF THE WEEK: Nicole's Milan, for the second race on the bounce, landed a punt. Trained by Sean Aherne, he was 10/1 overnight before winning at Fairyhouse on Saturday at 10/3. A Rule 4 (withdrawal of Calin Des Ongrais) will not have concerned backers too much.

Upping the ante

ONE of the negatives with having runners for Gigginstown is that you may have one view on the ideal race for your stable star, Michael and Eddie O’Leary another.

So it was that they quite justifiably chose to run Road To Riches in the Ryanair, sponsored of course by O’Leary, at Cheltenham last March. The problem with that plan was having to take on Vautour but he still ran a fine race in third, just behind Valseur Lido.

There would be no debate at Punchestown. The horse would go for the Gold Cup there late last season and he was still in the lead in with every chance when falling two out.

Noel Meade has been patient with the former Galway Plate winner this season. He was operated on for kissing spines between his Gowran second and a quiet run in the Lexus which can probably be safely ignored.

Don Poli is 3/1 favourite for the Stan James Irish Gold Cup on Sunday, Road To Riches is 16/1 and there is not much between them ability-wise. Meade has seemed very happy with the horse in recent weeks too.

BET: Road To Riches in Irish Gold Cup, 1pt e/w 16/1

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