Could the racing industry possibly be more patronising and sexist towards women? That’s a rhetorical question but we’ll answer it anyway.
No. No, it couldn’t.
Take a look at the form guide. It’s a snapshot of an upcoming race at Randwick this weekend in which three female jockeys are engaged. On the right, the surnames and first initials of the jockeys are listed. Immediately to the left of the initials?
In the case of three jockeys, that would be the letters “Ms”, denoting that the rider is a woman.
Racing insiders won’t admit this, but the female honorific is a clear throwback to an age when punters felt they needed to know whether a man or woman was steering their horse before risking their hard-earned.
Trainers cop the treatment too. Gai Waterhouse has won a Melbourne Cup and just about every other major Australian race several times over. But she, too, has “Ms” before her name. Just in case you want to think twice about betting on a horse trained by a woman.
Why are we alerting you to this entrenched piece of racing industry sexism?
Because the latest racing news is all about Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne, who treks north from her native Victoria to parade the Melbourne Cup trophy at Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse this weekend.
Payne thought she might also saddle up a horse or two while in town but that’s not going to happen because as was revealed overnight, she couldn’t get a ride. Despite the visit being flagged two weeks ago, not a single NSW trainer was able to find a spare horse.
That’s not a great look for an industry which Payne metaphorically flayed with the whip in her feisty Melbourne Cup victory speech, when she memorably told sexist blokes who didn’t rate female jockeys to “get stuffed”.
Payne’s manager Phillip Roost, using the colourful language favoured by his client Michelle, wasn’t too keen to play up the sexist side of things in this instance.
“It’s no surprise," Roost said of Payne’s failure to secure a mount. “The fields are small and I guess the trainers wanted to use their regular riders. There were simply no spots for her. If people think this is about her gender, well that’s bullshit.”
Roost clearly doesn’t want to be a whinger, which is admirable. In theory, he put up a good defence for what looks and smells like racing’s latest show of chauvinism. Roost is right about field sizes. They do indeed tend to be smaller this time of year, with many horses in the spelling paddock.
As an example, just 58 horses were listed for the entire Thursday race program at Gosford, north of Sydney. That’s a pretty paltry race card but it’s typical for December.
Problem is, Randwick has huge fields by December standards this weekend. At least 106 horses are engaged, which is a lot of horses any time of year. It’s also an awful lot of opportunities to book one of Australia’s best jockeys, especially one who just won a Melbourne Cup.
So is this a case of deeply entrenched sexism or loyalty by Sydney trainers to local riders? Michelle Payne herself says it's the latter. It's also worth noting that seven female jockeys will ride across the Randwick program -- several of them in multiple races.
But on the form guide issue, there’s not much to argue with. When not even the horses have filly or colt beside their name until you get to the fine print inside, pointing out female jockeys to punters looks like really poor form.
Meanwhile, Michelle Payne rode the winner of the first race at Warrnambool on Thursday. The horse's name was "Conspicuous Maid".
*Huffington Post Australia contacted Michelle Payne’s manager Phillip Roost for this story, as well as Racing NSW, who compile form guides, but received no response at the time of publication.