In 1973, June Lossius became the first officially recognised woman jockey to win a race at a metropolitan meeting in Australia, riding Some Attraction to victory. Up until this point, a tradition of amateur ‘ladies only’ picnic races had existed in Victoria since the 1850s as women were not permitted to compete professionally as jockeys or ride on professional racetracks. By the start of the 1970s women were still restricted to the ‘ladies only’ events, known as the ladies bracelet, or colloquially as ‘Powder Puff Derbies’, which were held on small, non-professional racetracks.
June Lossius was a very competent rider and had challenged the restrictions facing women riders in Australia. When she was younger, June had pretended to be a boy in order to ride her own horse in an early morning training session at Flemington racetrack. She recalls, ‘with my cropped hair pushed under a boy’s cloth cap, scarf around my throat, wearing a roomy boy’s jumper and in the dim light of dawn to confuse any suspicions, away I rode’.
Later June helped to establish the Victorian Lady Jockey’s Association, which played a role in establishing The Dame Merlyn Transition Handicap. It gave Australian female riders their first chance to ride and compete on a major racecourse, with access to professional facilities and large crowds. It also brought the issue of licensing female riders as professional jockeys into the public and media spotlight. The increasing momentum of the women’s liberation movement also assisted their cause.
June wasn’t alone in here quest to bring female jockey’s to the forefront of professional racing. Let’s now have a look at a few of the pioneers who paved the way for our current crop of female rider’s.
Pam O’Neill was the trailblazer for female jockeys in Australia. For many years O’Neill worked as a strapper for top trainer Harry Hatten before competing in women only jockey races in the 1970’s. She maintained a strong race record and in 1974 she won the International Jockeys race for women riders at Eagle Farm on board Ropely Lad.
The Queensland jockey tirelessly fought for women to be able to compete against men. Despite numerous setbacks and rejections, she finally got her permit to ride against men in 1979 but was not allowed to complete an apprenticeship. It meant she rode more than 400 winners without ever having the benefit of a claim.
On her first day riding against men, O’Neill set the tone, riding home a treble at the Gold Coast. A month later she won her first feature race in the Booroolong Handicap on Samei Boy. She won 18 races on her favourite horse Supersnack, or Winky as he was known in the stable, including the 1990 Rockhampton Cup.
In 1980, O’Neill achieved one of the highlights of her career when she won the first unisex race in Melbourne. On board the Geoff Murphy-trained Consular at Moonee Valley she beat home the great Roy Higgins. When O’Neill brought Consular back to the winner’s stall, hundreds of women on the track moved towards her and gave her a loud round of applause.
Despite many successes on the turf, O’Neill’s greatest victory was winning the battle for the right to ride against men. Her trailblazing achievements noted a change in the racing landscape and would pave the way for female jockeys in this country.
In 2010 Pam O’Neill was inducted into the Queensland Hall Of Fame
In 1979 women were given an official license to race as professional jockeys, with Pam O’Neil and Kiwi Linda Jones the first to be awarded licenses in Australia.
Like O’Neill, Jones battled to obtain a license after being rejected for many reasons. She was considered either too old at 24, she was married, wasn’t strong enough and would be taking the livelihood off a male jockey.
Jones was the first New Zealand woman jockey to gain the right to race against men in her home country, in 1977. Apprenticed to her husband, trainer Alan Jones, Linda had her first professional ride on 12 August 1978. She rode six winners in the first five weeks of the 1978-79 season.
She would also forge a successful racing career down under and become the first woman to ride a winner against male professionals at a registered meeting in Australia. Jones rode tough stayer Pay The Purple to victory in the 1979 Labour Cup at Doomben, etching her name in the record books.
In 1979 Linda Jones would be the first woman to ride in the Adelaide Cup on board Northfleet trained by her husband Alan.
Continuing a long list of firsts, Linda also achieved the following:
- The first women in the southern hemisphere to ride four winners in a day.
- The first woman to ride a winner at Ellerslie or Trentham, and the first to compete in the Auckland, Sydney or Wellington Cups.
- The first woman in Australasia, the United Kingdom, Europe or North America to ride a Derby winner – Holy Toledo in the Wellington Derby
After she gained equality, her career was short but spectacular: in 18 months she rode 65 winners.
Bev Buckingham –
Bev Buckingham grew up in Tasmania after migrating from England when she was two years old. She would help her father, a racehorse trainer, in his stables while taking riding lessons and at the age of 14 became an apprentice jockey under his tutelage.
Bev had her first race ride in October 1980. A fortnight prior, fellow jockey Alison Anderson had made racing history as the first woman to compete against men in Tasmania. On arriving at the Mowbray racetrack for her first race, Bev discovered that the new facilities for jockeys had not been completed and she had to change into her racing attire in a dingy room on the construction site.
Buckingham’s career quickly gained momentum. At just her fourth race appearance, she booted home her first winner aboard Limit Man at Elwick. By the end of her first season’s racing she had ridden 22 winners and was ranked ninth overall on the jockey’s table.
With a total of 63 winners in her second season, at the age of seventeen, Buckingham became the first woman in the world to win a State Jockey’s Premiership.
Buckingham was a dominant force in Tasmanian racing for 18 years winning nearly every feature event including the Devonport Cup, the Launceston Cup, the Queen’s Cup and the Hobart Cup (three times – 1986, 1996, 1998). On winning the Queen’s Cup she received a personal letter from Queen Elizabeth II expressing her pleasure in being able to congratulate a woman jockey on winning her race.
In 1984 Buckingham became the first woman to ride in the Caulfield Cup. She would also become the first female in the Southern hemisphere to ride 1000 winners.
Bev’s riding career ended after a horrific race fall on 30 May 1998 in which she fractured two vertebrae in her neck. She spent three months in rehabilitation in Victoria, before returning to the family’s Tasmanian property, where she continued an intensive rehabilitation program. Despite being told that she would never walk again, Bev overcame her injuries and went on to forge a successful career as a horse trainer. She was inducted into the inaugural Tasmanian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005.
Pam Baker blazed trail for female jockeys
by: Matt Stewart from the Herald Sun. Jan 21 2013
IT was a challenge, from husband to disgruntled wife, that sparked horse racing’s women’s movement.
Pam Baker was allowed to ride Tali Khargn in trackwork but not in professional races.
There was no such thing as a professional female jockey in 1971. The girls rode against each other as amateurs in quaintly dubbed Bracelets.
So a male jockey rode Tali Khargn in a race at Terang and slaughtered it.
It got Baker, and her husband Rodney, thinking.
“I was furious when I got home,” said Baker, now 71.
“I told my husband that I should have ridden it. He said ‘why don’t you?’
“I said ‘there’s no such thing as a female jockey’ and he said ‘well, why don’t you do something about it?”
Baker organised a meeting with Victoria Racing Club secretary Rodney Johnson where she asked Johnson why boys could ride professionally and girls couldn’t.
“He said that no one had ever asked,” Baker said.
From there, the movement was off and running, albeit at a jog.
“By the time we got the technical bits out of the way, getting things organised, it took two and a half years,” Baker said.
Backed by the sport’s minister of the time, Brian Dixon, apprenticeships became unisex. It was sink or swim and the girls swam.
Numbers swelled. By the time the first professional race was run for women at Casterton in August 1974, the newly formed Lady Jockey’s Association had 45 members.
Baker was its first president. The main race at Casterton that day was the Pam Baker Ladies Handicap.
“It got bigger more quickly than I ever imagined, and it will get bigger in the future,” Baker said.
Franklin Caravans donated a caravan to the association to be used around the state as a mobile changing room for female jockeys. Even up until the late 1980s, when Therese and Maree Payne rode the local circuit, some tracks still had a caravan with a “lady jockeys” sign out front.
After a handful of years in charge of the association Baker, who rode her share of winners, took a back seat as riders such as Liz Albers and June Lossius, and later the Paynes and others, made giant inroads into the sport of kings.
Baker, who now runs an agistment farm near Geelong, said there was no resistance to racing’s women’s movement, despite patronising reporting of their experiences.
One reporter wondered if there would ever be a “powder puff Derby” at Flemington, another nicknamed the women “jockettes.”
Baker said the intention, back in 1971, was merely for women to be given a fair chance.
“All I wanted was that they be given a chance to compete with the boys – no favours,” she said.
Fast forward to 2013 and the number of female jockeys is at its peak. Today 25% of jockeys are female, while only 15 years ago that figure was less that 5%. And those numbers are set to soar with almost 50% of apprenticeships being filled by young women. Female jockeys not only make up half the apprentice workforce, they are at least as successful as the boys. Last season, four of the seven state and territory apprentice titles were won by women.
In today’s racing landscape, female jockeys are competing with great success across all states of Australia, and are making it known they are not afraid to take on the boys. Jockeys such as Clare Lindop (first Australian female jockey to win a Group 1 race and the first to ride in the Melbourne Cup), Kathy O’Hara, Linda Meech, Michelle Payne, Winona Costin and Jamie Kah are just a few of the top class female riders staking their claim in the big smoke. Like those before them, they are the new pioneers in an ever changing landscape.