Jockey beats a chauvinist handicap

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You need a racing brain to be a top Flat jockey, and an intuitive understanding of racehorses, and pin-sharp judgement of pace and positioning. You also need to weigh about eight stone.

You do not need in unusual abundance raw physical strength, and yet, until yesterday, no woman jockey had ever won one of the dozen or top flight races.

For 29-year-old Alex Greaves, a shared dead-heat victory in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York was her reward for years of hard graft.

As an apprentice rider almost a decade ago, she rode so many winners at one small Midlands track that she earned the name the "Queen of Southwell". Yet even this was a barbed comment - it might just as well have been "The Queen of Nowhere". And that, despite important winners like Amenable in the Lincoln Handicap, was often where her career appeared to be heading.

But if a woman was ever going to break through the chauvinism among trainers and owners which generally smothers their careers before they have even begun, it was always likely to be Ms Greaves.

It is no coincidence that Ya Malak, her winning mount yesterday, is trained by David Nicholls, her husband. A former jockey himself, he admits that during his own days in the saddle, his opinion of female riders was less than flattering.

Attitudes may now be changing, but racing is generally at least 20 years behind the times. It is only 31 years, for instance, since the Jockey Club agreed to issue training licences to women.

If chauvinism is receding, it is doing so far too slowly to benefit Greaves, or probably the next three or four generations of talented women riders. Every positive step is a cause for celebration, however, and she has done the cause of Britain's under-valued, marginalised women jockeys no end of good.

Race report, page 25