One of Queensland racing’s most iconic figures, Pam O’Neill, will be immortalised in the New Year with the naming of a new $150,000 feature race to be run in her honour on Doomben Cup Day.
Having campaigned for more than a decade for the right to ride alongside her male counterparts, O’Neill was finally granted a licence in 1979 at the age of 34, riding a treble on debut at the Gold Coast despite failing to receive an allowance, as she became Australia’s first female jockey.
During a stellar riding career, O’Neill piloted upwards of 400 winners including a month-long stint in Japan in 1980 which landed her three winners.
The Pam O’Neill will be run over 1350m at Doomben as a Set Weights and Penalties race for fillies and mares on May 16.
“After many decades, it is gratifying to see my hard work to provide opportunities for women – not just as jockeys but within the racing industry more broadly – reconginsed in this manner.
“It is a true honour and a privilege to have a race named after me.”
In 2018, a one-off race honouring O'Neill was staged as part of the Summer Carnival before high-level discussions were staged to secure a more permanent fixture on the racing calendar.
Racing Queensland CEO Brendan Parnell said the decision to introduce The Pam O’Neill as part of a new-look TAB Queensland Racing Carnival was befitting of her role as a pioneer in the Sunshine State.
“Pam O’Neill’s contribution to the Australian racing landscape is far-reaching and transformational,” Mr Parnell said.
“She championed the rights for female jockeys, tearing down one of the final bastions of change, and showed the racing industry that equality wasn’t just aspirational but essential.
“In the ensuing decades, she has continued to serve as a sounding board and mentor for hundreds of jockeys – male and female – and she thoroughly deserves this honour.”
Brisbane’s recently retired Lord Mayor, Graham Quirk, who now serves as the Thoroughbred Director on the Racing Queensland Board, has been a strong advocate of O’Neill’s during his time in office.
Having bestowed the Lord Mayor’s Australia Day Sports Award on O’Neill prior to his retirement earlier this year, Mr Quirk says history will judge her as some who was more than just a trailblazer.
“It was her refusal not to take no for an answer and perseverance that would have seen most of us simply pack our bags and go home that gives her such a special place in racing folklore,” Mr Quirk said.
“When we look at country racing today – noting in many instances where race meetings simply would not proceed without the participation of female jockeys – we can trace today’s viability of country racing back to Pam’s tenacity.
“Her no-nonsense, tell-it-as-it-is style makes her opinion valued and this race named in her honour is a befitting recognition for someone who opened the door for opportunity.”
Inducted as a member of the Racing Queensland Hall of Fame in 2010, O’Neill continues to serve the industry as a director of the Australian Jockeys’ Association and secretary of the Queensland Jockeys’ Association.