The analysis is done: Women jockeys are the equal of men in Britain

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The importance of the racing and breeding industry to Ireland is outlined in a new report, but there are risks arising from Britain's planned exit from the European Union, it says. Photo: Florian Christoph CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Women jockeys are the equal of men, a study has found.  Photo: Florian Christoph CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Female jockeys are the equal of their male counterparts on British racetracks, according to a researcher who looked at 1.25 million individual rides.

The University of Liverpool study, the full findings of which have yet to be published, used detailed analysis techniques on race data covering 14 years to conclude that, once the quality of the horses they were riding was factored in, the performance of female jockeys was essentially no better or worse than male jockeys.

However, only 11.3% of professional jockey licences are held by female jockeys, and only 5.2% of available rides were taken by female jockeys during the period of the study.

Over the 14 years of data, which incorporated 128,488 races and 1,255,286 individual rides, female jockeys received just 5.2% of rides – 6.5% of those on the flat and 2.9% of those over jumps. There was only a slight upward trend in these figures across the data period.

Females accounted for 1.1% of rides in Class 1 Flat races, and 10% and 9.3% in Class 6 and 7 races respectively.

In jump racing, females accounted for only 0.8% of rides in Class 1 races, compared to 3.8% and 5.4% in Class 5 and 6 contests.

The study was written by Vanessa Cashmore, work-based learning manager at the Northern Racing College and a recent graduate from the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA course, run by the University of Liverpool with funding from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the Racing Foundation.

“This study strongly indicates that female jockeys are every bit as good as their male counterparts,” Cashmore says.

“I hope it helps to provide more opportunities for female jockeys, and also encourages more women to further their careers as race riders.”

The BHA reiterated its commitment to take steps to address the disparity between male and female riding opportunities following the release of the key findings. It said it was working with the sport’s recently formed Diversity in Racing Steering Group.

Its chief executive, Nick Rust, said the study provided further evidence towards something that many in the industry had felt for some time – that there was no reason why female jockeys should not be considered as good as their male counterparts.

Racing in Britain, he said, was one of the few sports where men and women can compete on equal terms. “However, if female jockeys are not being given the same opportunities as the men, then this cannot be considered as equality.

“Understanding why there are fewer female jockeys than male, and why those jockeys get fewer rides than the men – in particular in higher profile races – is something that we are determined to address, and will be considered by the sport’s dedicated Diversity in Racing Steering Group.

“Racing should be based on values of fairness and respect. We intend to ensure that these values underpin all aspects of the sport and that British racing provides fair opportunities for all of its participants.”

The BHA, he said, was committed to addressing diversity issues. It is continuing to monitor the situation in France where authorities had provided female jockeys with a weight allowance in certain races.

The BHA would consider the results of the French initiative, the views of the Diversity in Racing Steering Group, the findings of Cashmore’s study, and further statistical analysis to be undertaken internally, to determine steps to improve equal opportunities for female jockeys.

Susannah Gill, spokesperson for the Diversity in Racing Steering Group, said the research took the industry a step closer to putting the tired argument about strength and capability on the scrap heap and focusing on changing perception, on changing attitudes and, most importantly, driving behavioural change.

The Diversity in Racing Steering Group was created following the release of research into gender representation and diversity in British horseracing by Oxford Brookes University, in partnership with Women in Racing.

Gemma Tutty, a jockey and rider of almost 50 winners from over 600 career rides, said: “This study confirms what we already knew and have been saying all along, that female jockeys can be just as good as male jockeys.

“I hope this study helps to persuade more owners and trainers to give female jockeys a chance in the saddle, especially in the bigger races.”

The chief executive of the Racing Foundation, Rob Hezel, said Cashmore’s work, and previous research by the University of Oxford showed that gender diversity was clearly an issue for racing.

“It is great to see it being addressed in an open, informed and constructive way.”

British racing statistics reveal that there are fewer women jockeys than men, and that they get fewer opportunities.

In 2016, 24% of the 778 individuals holding a jockeys licence – including professional and amateur jockeys – were female. This figure has remained consistent for the past 10 years.

Michelle Payne rides Prince of Penzance back to scale after winning the Melbourne Cup last November.
Michelle Payne rides Prince of Penzance back to scale after winning Australia’s Group One Melbourne Cup in 2015 – the first female jockey to win the race.

In all, 11.3% of professional licences are held by females, including apprentice and conditional jockeys.

As of June 2017, 51% of the sport’s stable staff workforce was female, which has grown from 42% since 2010.

Nearly three-quarters of students at the sport’s two main education centres (British Racing School and Northern Racing College) were female in the academic year 2016/17.

Cashmore, in a summary of her work, said her findings raised questions around gender-based assumptions by examining whether there was a difference in the performance of male and female jockeys.

In order to achieve her analysis of the race starts, she had to look at female participation by licence type, class of race and quality of mount, along with comparative analysis of number of rides, win ratio and prize money won.

“This analysis found a number of variables which could have an impact on the average performance of females versus males, such as the frequency of rides which female riders are receiving and the class of race which they are riding in.

“However, one variable which was identified as potentially extremely significant was the fact that within handicap races the distribution of female rides is generally skewed towards the lower end of the handicap, which indicated a higher proportion of rides on ‘inferior’ horses compared to those which are higher in the handicap.”

She said statistical modelling was used, which allowed for a direct comparison of male and female performances.

Ultimately, female performance was found to be equivalent to that of male jockeys.

“These results indicate the possibility of gender discrimination, either conscious or unconscious, or at the very least an inherent hiring-bias towards selecting male riders.

“The findings of this research have both academic significance – horseracing being one of the few sports in which men and women compete on equal terms – and potential relevance to horseracing policy decisions concerning gender equality programmes.”

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