Racing: O'Gorman rises by sitting still: The champion woman jockey owes her sense of style to a physics lesson from her father. Richard Edmondson reports

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The Independent Online
WHEN Emma O'Gorman's horse-hugging technique is seen on Britain's racecourses the easy assumption to make is that here is another jockey apeing the American riding style.

This method, though, has been O'Gorman's way from the first time she sat on a horse, and before other, more celebrated, protagonists in Lanfranco Dettori and Alan Munro became part of a day's racing. Last year it worked to such effect that the 18-year-old became the leading female rider on the Flat for the first time and was this month presented with the trophy to mark her achievement.

The fact that O'Gorman uses this style is a legacy of the admiration that her father, Bill, has for jockeyship in the United States. The Newmarket trainer's daughter not only mirrors this devotion to the crouch, a technique which suggests the rider is almost asleep on a horse's neck, but also the reasons for employing it.

'Like my father says, the horse does 90 per cent of the work and the less you hinder it the better,' she says. 'If you're giving a kid a piggy-back and he's jumping around all over the place you're not going to get as far as if he was quiet and still.'

O'Gorman, the trainer, does not get involved in arguments over the upright European jockey and the streamlining seen in the States. He considers supporters of the former to be heretics. 'I can't imagine that the motor companies have done all the work they have on aerodynamics to waste money and that this is the only sport that defies the laws of resistance.

'If you try to run with your jacket open and then your jacket shut and can't tell the difference you must have something wrong with you. It must be easier for a horse to have as little wind resistance as possible.'

The manifest vigour of the traditional rider is also anathema to O'Gorman. 'It's a demonstration noted more for its enthusiasm than its skill,' he says. 'This cannot be the only sport where someone who is good at something makes it look difficult.'

But if the O'Gormans have come some way towards making their state of the art acceptable, there is still much work to do in convincing others that women jockeys can compare with their male counterparts. This conundrum is further complicated by their blood ties.

'Dad wouldn't have let me be a jockey if he didn't think I could ride, and he wouldn't be giving me rides if he didn't think I was capable,' O'Gorman says. 'We have a very professional relationship and the owners know he wouldn't stick me on if he didn't think I could win. We have had trouble only once and my dad told them to come and pick up the horse the next day.'

O'Gorman, the trainer, believes the absence of opportunity is the main factor preventing his daughter, or any other woman, making a mark on these shores. 'In this country, we just don't give them a chance,' he says. 'Emma and Alex (Greaves, the 1991 champion and the runner-up last year) are the only women that consistently get on a live horse. If they got the rides that some of these other kids get who knows what they'd do.

'In America, Julie Krone is a very determined and aggressive person and she's made it into the big league.'

The rubbishing of women jockeys strikes a chord with O'Gorman, and reminds him of a spurious piece of received wisdom from his schooldays. 'The best example I can think of is that when I was younger, lots of people said you couldn't have a black footballer in the team. That they could play cricket but they couldn't play football. Some people had convinced themselves that this was a fact.

'Well, it's a good job somebody changed their minds about that or we wouldn't have an England team of any sort these days.'

Having been immersed in an adult pursuit for some of her teenage years, Emma O'Gorman has more maturity than you would expect from the average school- leaver. Only when she poses for a photograph in the soft-furnished bedroom of her separate quarters at her father's Seven Springs stable, talking of her boyfriend (fellow jockey Darryll Holland) and surrounded by portraits of horses, does her youth come through.

But there is realism in her voice when she considers how far she can go in the sport. 'I'd like to be champion apprentice, I think that's within reach,' she says. 'But my ambitions now are the same as they've always been. To be a professional who's recognised as a top rider.

'If I said I wanted to be the champion that would be ridiculous. I just want to be the best I can.'