The fact that women jockeys like Chantal Sutherland and Rosie Napravnik are winning big races is encouraging, given how few opportunities present themselves for the fairer sex to compete in top races here with the best mounts. Yet, it’s mildly disconcerting to realize how much of a curiosity they are treated by the media and, yes, even fans. I suppose having grown up in the 1970s at the height of the women’s lib movement, I fully believed things would have progressed a tad faster when it came to female jockeys gaining respect here. Don’t get me wrong—on the whole, my brethren of the feminine persuasion have made steps forward. While only Napravnik and Sutherland are currently in the top 100 North American jockeys in terms of earnings, in recent years Rosemary Homeister Jr., Emma-Jayne Wilson and Inez Karlsson have been standouts, as have a host of promising newcomers like Maylan Studart, Brittany Arterburn, Stephanie Korger, Faith Schorr, Kristina McManigell, Jackie Davis and Oriana Rossi.
It’s certainly better than a century ago. Take as an example a Philadelphia Inquirer article from June 6, 1909, where a prominent Main Line sportsman planned a “novel” flat race on his private estate with prominent society horsewoman as riders, the mere prospect of which “created intense gossip in horse show and hunting circles.”
Then again, in 2011 we have the Pimlico Female Jockey Challenge which, although it supports a good cause, smacks of patronizing. Would everyone be as accepting if they hosted a "Black Jockeys Challenge"? Of course, it’s brought to you by the same track whose PR department recognizes the “benefits” of the $20 unlimited refill beer mug and catering to the lower common denominator. You know, “the people’s race...the people’s party.” Get your Preak on, baby!