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Racing Queensland celebrates International Women’s Day

By Andrew Adermann

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Racing Queensland explores the achievements of three prominent female stakeholders.

Staged across the globe on March 8, #IWD2020 recognises the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women including those in the racing industry.

To mark the occasion, RQ talked to Stephanie Thornton, Brittany Graham and Joanne Price about their recent achievements, the significance of International Women’s Day, and what they hope to see for women in the industry going forward.

Thoroughbreds

Apprentice jockey Stephanie Thornton has been a breakout star in Queensland over the past 12 months after moving from Victoria to work for trainer Steve O’Dea.

The 21-year-old currently sits fourth on the Queensland Metropolitan Jockeys’ Premiership, riding 39 winners this season.

“It’s great for me being that I’ve only been up in Queensland since August, so to be able to come in and be as prominent as I am on the premiership is a big achievement for myself and something I’m immensely proud of,” Thornton said.

“Winning the TAB Mode Plate on Sugar Boom, it was my first stakes win and my first listed win and that was a huge thrill for me to be able to get that as an apprentice as well.”

In January, she was the only female jockey in the famed Magic Millions 2YO Classic, riding O’Dea’s filly Gotta Kiss against some of the country’s best jockeys including Damian Lane and Hugh Bowman.

“It’s always an experience riding against the best jockeys that we have in Australia because you can learn so much by being around them,” she said.

“Most of the bigger names are very humble and happy to speak to you, and take that Millions day as an example, I had a really great chat with Hugh Bowman, talking to him about moving to Queensland and going where the opportunities present themselves.”

Thornton is one of 62 female jockeys in Queensland of which 21 are apprentices like herself.

She wants to inspire other young women coming through the ranks with what she has achieved thus far, and break down the perceived gender battle that still exists in the industry.

“If you love what you do, then it makes everything a lot easier - you have to trust yourself, trust your ability,” Thornton said.

“It’s not an easy industry to be a part of, and you lose more races than you win but if you’ve got the resilience to get back up and go out there then you’ll always be winning.

“It’s great to see not just our industry, but many sporting industries celebrate the importance International Women’s Day.

“I think racing has definitely progressed, and it’s on a much more level playing field than it was say 10 years ago.

“The whole dynamic has changed, and it’s not just about how strong you are, it’s about what individual can get out of the horse and that doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female, tall, short – it’s about your capability.

“It shouldn’t be about ‘do we put a female on this horse, or take a female off this horse’ – that shouldn’t be the conversation that is had – it’s about who is the best rider in that scenario.”

Harness

Relative to other racing codes, the harness industry boasts extensive female participation in the training and driving ranks, where women now make up almost a third of harness participants in the state.

The strength of females in Queensland harness racing is evidenced by their standings on current the Metropolitan Trainers and Drivers premierships.

Chantal Turpin currently sits third in the training standings with 12 wins, while from a driving perspective, Narissa McMullen sits second in the premiership race with 18 wins.

Racing Queensland once again got behind the annual Team Teal campaign, with $200 donated on every occasion a Queensland reinswoman drives a winner in the Sunshine State.

The five-week campaign, which wraps up on Saturday, is raising funds for the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group, which is the leading clinical trials research organisation for gynaecological cancer in the region.

In addition to the $10,000 raised thus far, all Queensland reinswomen have worn special teal-coloured pants to highlight the campaign.

Off the track, trainer and driver Brittany Graham is building a very impressive reputation as a Sky Racing presenter.

Born into a Queensland-based harness racing family, Graham had little choice than to embrace the sport, having to bide her time working in her father’s stables for a year before obtaining her trial license in 2013.

Whilst she was driving winners nation-wide, Graham had commenced a Business Marketing degree at university and accepted a position in that field by 2017.

“From there, I started attending a few Sky Racing academies, and a position came up in November 2018 to come down to Sydney and start working at Sky and decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up on,” Graham said.

“The broadcasting career really came from nowhere, it was something that I had never really considered.”

Graham is now a panelist on Sky’s flagship harness racing program, In The Gig, which airs on Tuesdays and splits her time across the country where she attends the major Australian meets doing live hosting pieces.

Echoing Thornton’s comments, Graham wants her career path to serve as inspiration for other women in the industry.

“Getting a co-hosting job was massive for me – I had grown up watching the show and never could’ve imagined it would something I would get to be involved in,” Graham said.

“Never say never; I never would’ve expected to be here and if you had told me two years ago that I would be working for Sky Racing full-time in Sydney I would’ve laughed at you.

“I’m really glad that the racing industry is embracing International Women’s Day more, and it’s not about breaking up the two genders or putting women on a pedestal – it’s about celebrating women and the roles that we weren’t given the opportunity to do in years gone by.

“Going forward, I would just love to see the industry trend of female participation continue onwards and upwards.”

In honour of International Women’s Day, an all-female lineup will take over the Sky Racing channels on Sunday including Graham.

Greyhounds

Canungra-based greyhound trainer Joanne Price isn’t one for the limelight, however her past 12 months left her with little choice than to celebrate what she has achieved.

As is often the case, Price was born into the industry where both her grandfather and father had greyhounds of their own.

She got her greyhound training license at aged 17 in Victoria, but after travelling the country she landed in Canungra where her career started to take off.

“We have a pretty small kennel, and most are more pets than racers,” Price said.

“We just breed with our own dogs, and that’s what works for us – just stick to your own and I found that’s what’s manageable for me.”

Of her five current runners, it’s the brothers Infrared Star and Infrared Lad that made 2019 a year to remember for Price.

In January, Infrared Star caused a boilover in the Group 3 Box 1 Photography Queensland Cup over 520 metres at Albion Park, jumping a $23 outside chance and scoring a dominant four-length victory.

Four months later in May, Infrared Lad emulated his brother’s feat with another Group 3 win in the Garrard’s Winter Chase over 710 metres, downing the $2 favourite Double Gee by three quarters of a length.

“What can I say about them really, they just blow me away,” Price said.

“I have no expectations for my dogs, but what those two do on the track just astounds me and I’m so proud of them.”

Price was humbled when described as a woman of great success within her industry, and encouraged others who were interested in being involved to take the leap. 

“Once you get that opportunity, you just have to run with it and give it a red hot go,” Price said.

“There will be doubters, but you don’t know what is going to happen so you can only trust your judgement and do what feels right.

“There are definitely more women involved now which is fantastic, and that’s what we want to see keep happening.

“We’re also seeing a lot of young female trainers come through as well, they’re out there helping at the tracks and volunteering their time which is brilliant to see.

“I am always more than willing to help out a young trainer, if they have any advice or questions, we’re always there for each other and wanting to help others grow in any way possible.”

Racing Queensland is proud to support International Women’s Day and its bid to create a gender equal world.