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A row has erupted over the National Horseracing Authority’s (NHA’s) announcement that they intend giving “a lifetime sex allowance” of 1.5kg to female jockey Rachel Venniker.
The only word that springs to mind about this move by the ruler's of racing is “incredulity”.
Certainly, the amount of debate this unprecedented move has evoked on social media is huge. There is a general theme: whatever happened to gender equality?
Two KwaZulu-Natal trainers, Tony Rivalland and Gavin van Zyl, have condemned the NHA on the Sporting Post website.
Rivalland, also a director of racing operator Gold Circle, said: “This is an absolute insult to Rachel as she has demonstrated her ability to ride every bit as well as her male counterparts.
“This was never placed on any agenda of the rules committee of the NHA: another egregious decision without consultation.”
Gavin van Zyl, one of KwaZulu-Natal’s most successful trainers, said on the same website that this move is “grossly unfair” on owners and punters.
“How do you expect to beat a competent rider like Rachel when she jumps 1.5 kg ahead of the pack?
“There are jockeys riding who can’t hold a candle to Rachel. If anyone needs a 1.5 kg claim it is the jockeys that don’t finish their claim before they qualify and eventually fall by the wayside.”
The 20 year-old Venniker, a student at Roseway Waldorf before joining the Apprentice Academy, has said she will “reserve comment” until she knows exactly how the rule will be implemented.
This sitting-on-the-fence response by the female rider now in 14th place in the national jockeys log and about to be crowned champion apprentice may have been suggested by her mentor Michael Roberts, the UK champion in 1992.
Interestingly, 4Racing presenter Nadine Low Ah Kee has certainly not been afraid to voice her opinion. The former Eastern Cape jockey said: “It is an absolute insult to everything Rachel has achieved and undermines everything she has done for the sport.
“Sexism among jockeys ranks as a thing of the past and males accept their female colleagues as equals.
“Race-riding can never be brought down to brute strength. It is about finesse and timing, being at one with your horse, reading a race, pace and judgment and having a feel for what is underneath you,” said Kee.
The NHA will be pleased not all the social media comments were negative. One blogger said: “There will be views on both sides, but this is the right move and should have been done a long time ago. There has to be some kind of handicap system for jockeys. We already have a sex allowance for fillies racing against colts and geldings and I don’t see any complaints there.”
Three female UK jockeys — Hollie Doyle, Rachel Blackmore and Hayley Turner — have grabbed racing headlines without receiving any allowance.
Anyone needing further proof that a female can hold her own in the sport can look at the case of American rider Julie Krone, who won 3,700 races, including the Belmont Stakes.
It would appear the NHA have set a dangerous precedent — Rachel Venniker is a competent rider who doesn’t need a sex allowance.
We can only wait and see whether there will be a change of thought at NHA headquarters.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.