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Leading female riders on song around Queensland

IMG-6623.JPGBy Jordan Gerrans

When Rockhampton-based apprentice hoop Alisha Ross had her first career ride back in 2018, there was often race days she would attend where she was the only female jockey.

Now, in late 2021 – Ross and her band of female hoops are booting home countless winners on the track, as well as booting the boys out of their own jockeys’ room.

The 21-year-old Ross was a part of history around Queensland last weekend with female riders winning every race at two different tracks on Saturday afternoon and evening, Gladstone before the sun went down and Toowoomba under lights.

The feats have been achieved before – the ladies regularly dominate the non-TAB circuit winning every race on the card – and it occurred at provincial level at Rockhampton just over a decade ago, as well. 

It is not even rare these days to see female riders be the only jockeys at country race meetings, it happened at Monto Race Club earlier this year and Clermont in October 2020 featured seven different female riders.

And, with the male jockeys’ room usually bigger than the ladies’ at most clubs across Queensland – they are often having to switch.

Ross, who collected two of the five winners from Gladstone on Saturday, enjoys the fact that the girls outnumber the boys these days.

“We kind of dominated too, we got to use the boys’ jockeys room and they had to go sit in our little room,” Ross said with a laugh.

“It is not very often you see the numbers of girls overpower the boys at a race meeting but this weekend it happened and it really showed with the results.”

Apprentice hoop Montanna Savva, who piloted the first of the seven winners from Toowoomba on Saturday, says the Darling Downs in an area where the girls are prominent, with Saturday night’s feat the first time at Clifford Park female riders had won every race.

Savva, Hannah Richardson, Isabella Rabjones, Angela Jones and Georgina Cartwright combined to ride the card at Toowoomba while at Gladstone - Ross, Tahlia Fenlon, Montana Philpot and Alisha Donald got the job done.

“There always seems to be no room in the jockeys’ room here at Toowoomba, there is always more girls than boys these days – we are really dominating up here, which is great,” Savva said.

“We are always jam packed in there.”

In her almost four years as an apprentice, Ross has seen significant growth in the numbers of girls riding around the Sunshine State.

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When she started in 2018, it was at times just her, or maybe Emma Bell and Brooke Richardson as well.

At Gladstone on Saturday alone, there were six female riders with 12 ladies on hand at Toowoomba on Saturday.

“I have definitely seen the growth,” she said.

“There was three of us and sometimes just one depending on what race meeting we were going too that weekend, as the further north you went there was just less and less girls.

“It has definitely grown and we are really starting to dominate the sport.”

Another aspect of the achievement Ross was proud of was that all the female jockeys to ride a winner on Saturday at Gladstone were apprentices.

“It was a pretty good achievement, especially seeing as we are all apprentices,” she said.

“We were all happy about it.”

Earlier this year, Racing Queensland CEO Brendan Parnell noted the growth of apprentice riders.

“Our enrolment numbers are good, the last 18 months have been spent in a recruitment drive and over the last three years it is up about 50 per cent – we have the most apprentice jockeys of any major state,” he said.

“We have 54 apprentices; New South Wales has 46 and Victoria is less than that again.”

The 24-year-old Savva thinks female riders are able to progress much further within the industry than what they were when she first started out.

“There is definitely a lot more female riders going further along in their Apprenticeship, there was always a lot of girl jockeys in the country but we are now seeing more at provincial and metro,” Savva said.

“There is a lot more through those parts.

“Girls used to get the rides in the country but not so much at the higher level, but it is really good to see they are getting those opportunities now.”

With women riding the entire card at country and provincial level more often, Savva is looking forward to the day where they can do it on a metropolitan Saturday in Brisbane – an achievement her boss, respected Darling Downs trainer Kevin Kemp, believes cannot be far away.

On the increase of female riders around Queensland, Ross believes there is a number of factors that have led to the boost in recent years.

The amazing feats of Jamie Kah, Rachel King and Mikayla Weir in the southern states, as well as the likes of Tegan Harrison and Stephanie Thornton in Queensland, have inspired and driven young girls into the saddle, Ross thinks.

And, the fact that many girls are natural lightweights and they do not need to waste as hard as the boys plays a part in their surge.

According to Savva, all the female hoop’s on the Darling Downs champion each other’s growth and success in the saddle.

“We are all supportive of each other and it was really great be a part of,” Savva said.

“We did not think about it during the night, we just kept going and winning races and by end of the night we quickly realised “oh, we have done it”.

“It was a big deal for us after the races.”