Sue’s historic day: 40 years since NZ woman’s horse racing milestone

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Sue Day and Jaws return to scale after winning the Waybrook Handicap at Timaru on July 22, 1978.
Sue Day and Jaws return to scale after winning the Waybrook Handicap at Timaru on July 22, 1978. © Racing Women of New Zealand

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the first occasion New Zealand women rode against their male counterparts.

And just a week later, Sue (Day) Walsh rode into the record books on July 22, 1978 as the first New Zealand female to win a race against her male counterparts when she guided the Ned Thistoll-trained Jaws to victory in the Waybrook Handicap at Timaru.

Female riders now make up 43 per cent of New Zealand’s licensed jockeys and their impact is well-illustrated by the jockeys’ premiership for the 2017-18 season.

Sue (Day) Walsh
Sue (Day) Walsh

Samantha Collett is assured of the title as a runaway leader with 121 wins while Alysha Collett, Danielle Johnson and Rosie Myers all sit in the top six.

It will be the sixth time a female has won the premiership; Lisa Cropp claimed three in succession from 2005 and Lisa Allpress topped the table in 2012 and 2016.

The first win by a woman in New Zealand was 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.

Sue Day, who later married leading jockey David Walsh, earned herself a slice of racing history four decades ago, but doesn’t consider her achievement at Timaru to be the most memorable of her career as a jockey.

Of her first win at the age of 21, Walsh said she remembered the track was like a ploughed paddock.  “When you’re riding you don’t usually hear the crowd and there wouldn’t have been that many people there that day, but when I hit the front I could hear them.

“I only did it in the first place to prove a point. I couldn’t see why the girls couldn’t have a go.

“I found my second win on that horse more satisfying. Being a staunch Cantabrian, I got a bigger buzz becoming the first female to ride a winner at Riccarton.

“I used to ride at jump-outs and trials, usually on the rough ones, but riding was never really my thing, I much preferred the training side.”

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.

The success of female jockeys in New Zealand in modern times has the country as a world leader. Earlier this year a British study found that female jockeys are the equal of their male counterparts on British racetracks, with 1.25 million individual rides assessed. But 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.

Walsh subsequently went on to become established as a trainer and enjoyed success in Australia by preparing Chatham (NZ) (Globetrotter) to win the Listed Eagle Farm Stakes (2200m) and the Gr.2 Taranaki Stakes (2000m) at home.

More recently from her Foxton base, she produced the now retired Exquisite Jewel (NZ) (Lucky Unicorn) to triumph in the Gr.3 Manawatu Classic (2000m) and to finish fourth in the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m).

Additional reporting: NZ Thoroughbred Marketing



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