Horse Riding – Flat Racing
Flat racing is the most common form of racing seen worldwide. Flat racing tracks are typically oval in shape and are generally level, surfaces vary, with turf most common in Europe and dirt more common in North America and Asia.
Individual flat races are run over distances ranging from 440 yards (400 m) up to two and a half miles (4 km), with distances between five and twelve furlongs being most common. Short races are generally referred to as “sprints”, while longer races are known as “routes” in the United States or “staying races” in Europe. Although fast acceleration (“a turn of foot”) is usually required to win either type of race, in general sprints are seen as a test of speed, while long-distance races are seen as a test of stamina.
Why are there so few women Jockeys in Horse Racing?
In interviews with NBC, five female jockeys described what they say is a long and persistent history of gender discrimination in the sport. Some say their careers have been deterred by sexual harassment and bullying.
About eight percent of jockeys are female, according to the Jockeys’ Guild membership, and the majority never reach that top level. There’s a host of reasons why those numbers are so low, jockeys say.
In interviews with NBC, five female jockeys described what they say is a long and persistent history of gender discrimination in the sport. Some say their careers have been deterred by sexual harassment and bullying. At a time when the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have exposed the inappropriate and often illegal treatment of women by more than 200 high-profile men, there has been no similar reckoning in racing. Female jockeys say that’s because too many of them are afraid to speak up.
“Every day, someone says something derogatory,” said jockey Erica Murray.
Female riders often share stories with each other, Murray said, about trainers, jockeys or grooms making inappropriate comments about their appearance or making unwanted physical advances. The harassment, they said, is especially bad at small tracks.
Murray and three other jockeys interviewed for this article said they didn’t want to name the men who have harassed them or the tracks where the harassment occurred for fear of losing work. For the same reason, they never filed official complaints.
“To survive,” Murray said, “you have to keep your mouth shut and keep chugging along.”
Horse racing has always been a male-dominated sport. Women could not compete until 1968 when Kathy Kusner sued the Maryland Racing Commission for a jockey license. Diane Crump broke the gender barrier at the Kentucky Derby in 1970, 95 years after the first Derby. Fourteen years passed before another woman rode in the Derby.
“It’s a fair statement to say that there are many, many more men good riders than women, but that doesn’t change the fact that when a girl is a good rider, she’s just a good rider period,” said the trainer Tom Amoss, who chose Napravnik to jockey Mylute in two Triple Crown races in 2013. “Horse racing is a men’s world and I don’t say that proudly, it’s just the way it is. It’s very difficult for a woman to break in in any aspect of it.”
This “could suggest poor results but could also occur because women tend to ride inferior horses in lower class races,” according to his analysis.
Women jockeys say they have to work at least twice as hard as men, which often means working horses for hours in the morning for free only to see a male rider competing on those same horses later in the day. Some women jockeys, including Napravnik, had trainers turn them down then hire them after they won races for someone else.
Cheyanna Patrick, who has ridden mostly for her dad, a trainer based in Indiana, said if it wasn’t for her family, she wouldn’t have the success she had finding mounts.
“I literally walked into barns just to introduce myself and trainers would say, ‘You can keep walking, we don’t use girl jockeys in this barn,’” said Patrick, who now attends law school at the University of Kentucky. “I would try to get an agent, but when I called agents they would say the trainers they work with don’t use girl jockeys.”
Patrick remembers approaching a trainer about racing opportunities, and immediately being asked about her appearance instead of how many races she has won.
“You should think about being a stripper, you’re really pretty, and you’ll make more money at that,” Patrick said he told her. “I was probably 18. I was stunned, I thought, ‘Wow, this makes me really want to be a jockey and work with you guys.’”
Murray, who races at Louisiana Downs, said an agent told her that if she was a boy, she’d be the leading apprentice rider in the country.
“It’s behind like 50 years on the race track in terms of the treatment of women. It’s ridiculous,” said Murray, who started racing at 17.
Larry Jolivette, a trainer at Louisiana Downs who works with Murray and other women riders, says a lot of male trainers believe that male jockeys are stronger riders than female jockeys. To Jolivette, it’s all about how hard a jockey works. A recent study by the University of Liverpool in the UK that used data covering a 14-year period found that women jockeys did just as well as men when they were offered horses of the same quality.
“It’s a tough game for women; they have to be dominant,” Jolivette said. “Erica had won a race for me just yesterday. She’s got the mindset and she’s got the ability. She will make it.”
Murray says she first experienced catcalls and sexual harassment at age 13 when she started working horses on a farm. Since then, it’s been a constant.
Murray will talk about her experiences but will not name names for fear of being blackballed. Filing a complaint to track stewards, Murray and others said, is not taken seriously and could lead to retaliation. They say the harassment takes focus away from their jobs and creates an unsafe working environment.
Jockey, Natalie Turner named a name in 2016: another jockey at Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, Oklahoma. Freddy Jose Manrrique-Guerrero was saying inappropriate things, leaving notes on her car and following her, Turner said. She and others complained to track stewards, who gave Manrrique-Guerrero verbal warnings that had little impact, she said.
During one race, Manrrique-Guerrero grabbed her shoulder and hit her horse in the face, she said. Turner said she struck him several times with a whip as “self-defence”—all of it visible on video. Both jockeys were sent to anger management classes and received a 30-day suspension. Turner’s was later reduced to a two-week suspension.
Manrrique-Guerrero’s agent, Mike Gass Sr., denied that the jockey reached for Turner’s arm or hit her horse. The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission determined that Manrrique-Guerrero did make contact with Turner’s shoulder, but there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that it was intentional. .
Eventually, Turner took out a restraining order against Manrrique-Guerrero, but she was still pitted against him in races, she said.
“The whole thing could’ve been avoided, but instead it was swept under the rug,” said Turner, who retired from racing in 2016 after six years in the sport. She is now a marketing coordinator at Belterra Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. “When you look out at the track and you start thinking about everything that goes into those two minutes on the track, it’s just not worth it for me,” she said.
Amanda Clinton, vice president of communications for Cherokee Nation Entertainment, which owns and operates Will Rogers Downs, would not comment on Turner’s case but said the track has a “sexual harassment-free workplace.”
Kelly Cathey, executive director of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, said if a jockey is being harassed, “they should report it no matter who is going to find out and have enough faith that they will be protected in situations like that.”
“That’s serious. They should never feel like they shouldn’t complain because they’re the only female rider,” Cathey said.