A new campaign has been launched to bring more women into the world of competitive horse racing – and it is working. The initiative, run by the Gold Coast’s prestigious Magic Millions race, provides $500,000 in extra prize money for the top four female-owned horses in the competition. Regardless of where each horse finishes in the race, the fastest four horses owned and trained by women will receive a share of the $500,000 prize.
The campaign is the brainchild of Magic Millions co-owner Katie Page-Harvey, who has long been determined to encourage more women to participate and succeed in horse racing.
“It’s a grassroots revolution to get more women involved in the business of racing. I want them involved in choosing the yearling, choosing the trainer and taking the horse through the breeding cycle,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a male or a female, you can still own and choose a horse.”
Currently, less than a quarter of racehorse owners in Australia are female. This figure is even lower when it comes to owning or training high level horses in Australia’s best stables. These numbers are particularly concerning given that women dominate in entry-level racing and in junior stable positions. Horse riding as a childhood hobby is largely dominated by young girls. So why do women fall out of the industry in senior positions?
World Champion eventer Zara Phillips described horse racing as “top heavy with males”, echoing Page-Harvey’s determination to encourage more women to race at the highest level.
The $500,000 women’s bonus was introduced last year and in order to be eligible for the prize, a horse’s team has to be entirely female. This element is designed to encourage women to engage with all stages of the racing process: choosing and buying horses, training horses and being responsible for the breeding cycle.
Page-Harvey’s one concern with the initiative was that even when money had been allocated, no horses would be eligible to win it. Luckily, this turned out not to be the case. In the prize’s first year, eligible horses finished first, third and fourth in the Magic Millions Classic race for two-year-olds.
The first place winner was all-female trained Real Surreal. “When Real Surreal crossed the line in first place, I was overwhelmed – goosebumps and temporarily lost for words,” Page-Harvey said.
According to Magic Millions managing director Vin Cox, the program has had a observable effect on the number of women involved in the races.
“Anecdotally we are getting a lot more female syndicates buying horses,” he said.
In order to have a chance at winning the prize money, trainer Gai Waterhouse has put together a new all-female team. Another new syndicate of women has been created since the prize’s announcement, called It’s All About The Girls.
The prize is the first women’s incentive in the history of Australia horse racing. So far, champion Australian showjumper Edwina Tops-Alexander and world champion Zara Phillips have thrown their support behind the initiative. Hopefully, as more female role models and more incentives emerge, horse racing might be able to fix its gender balance problem.