(Left to right) Melinda Turner, Jenny Graham and Lizzie Jelfs at the Graham stable (Photo: Jenny Graham, Racing Twitter)

Changing the landscape: the women getting ahead in racing

When Angela Graham was young, there were few women established in racing for her to look up to. But she was fortunate: one of those few was her mother, high-profile Port Macquarie trainer Jenny Graham – so racing was in in her blood. Inspired by her upbringing, she pursued a career in racehorse training herself.

 “I have always been around racing due to it being a family pastime,” Angela explains. “Horses are a great passion of mine, and there was always an expectation that one day I would like to train.

 “It came earlier than expected when some horses became available to train, so I got licensed and here we are.”

Racing has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. But today the industry is increasingly welcoming women: as trainers, jockeys, apprentices, stablehands and also as journalists. After a ground-breaking season for female involvement in racing, the landscape is shifting, with the contributions of women increasingly acknowledged.

Not everyone has Angela Graham’s family background to give them a head start, but ever greater numbers of women are participating in racing – and achieving results.

Trainer Angela Graham with racehorse What’s Onemore (Photo: supplied)

During the 2020-21 season, superstar jockey Jamie Kah accomplished what no other jockey – male or female – had achieved before, winning 100 races in one season in metropolitan Victoria. It was a momentous achievement, and one that cemented Kah as a role model for young girls aspiring to enter the industry.

Triumphing in 20 per cent of her races last season in metropolitan Victoria, Kah was also the only jockey in the state to win more than $11 million in prize money that season, thanks to her 100 wins coupled with more than 120 minor places.

While women are increasingly making waves in the industry, past years and decades have seen some notable women rise to prominence. Perhaps best known among them is veteran trainer Gai Waterhouse, who is widely acknowledged as the “First lady of Australian racing”, and has played a major part in putting women on the racing map.

Inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2018, and the Racing Hall of fame in 2007, Waterhouse – the daughter of legendary trainer TJ “Tommy” Smith – has helped pave the way for the many young women who have followed her.

Jockey Jamie Kah after winning aboard Deep Speed at Caulfield (Photo: Getty images)

This year, Waterhouse was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to the thoroughbred horse racing industry, as a trainer and a role model for women.

Leading female riders such as Clare Lindop, the first woman to win the 2008 AAMI Victorian Derby aboard Rebel Raider, and Ballarat’s Michelle Payne, the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup aboard Prince of Penzance in 2015, have helped to inspire many young women to “Ride like a Girl” (the title of the 2019 film about Payne, starring Rachel Griffiths).

Gai Waterhouse after winning the 2013 Melbourne Cup with Fiorente (Photo: Getty Images)

For Angela Graham, still early in her training career, a noteworthy achievement came in February 2021 at Taree, where three-year old gelding Arewerichenuff broke his maiden over 1000 metres, and two races later three-year- old filly What’s Onemore also finished first, giving Graham her first double. 

“It meant a lot to train a double on that day,” she says, remembering how proud she felt.

“The two horses Arewerichenuff and Whats Onemore were our foundation horses. Others I had trained were tried and temporary in nature, going back to their original trainer.

“When I took out my licence, my husband turned bloodstock agent and purchased both ]horses] to get me started. We syndicated them to around 10 owners and friends who were willing to take the jump into a horse with a new trainer.

“They took some time and needed it, but we had faith, as did our owners, and both saluted at their maiden victories by over four lengths with What’s Onemore going back to back as part of that double.”

Angela’s sister, Sky Racing presenter Melinda Turner, has noted the increasingly prominent role being played by women in the industry.

Melinda Turner (right) with Gary Kliese at the 2021 MNCRA Country Championships Qualifier (Photo: supplied)

“The increasing number of women in racing has just continued over the past few years. As a little girl growing up, the industry was dominated by males,” she says.

“There are endless opportunities for females in racing now, and I feel those opportunities are just continuing to grow.

“Successful female jockeys of the likes of Kathy [O’Hara], Rachel [King] and of course Jaime Kah, trainers such as Annabel Neasham and media presenters such as Lizzie Jelfs are only paving the way for females to get involved in the industry.”

After growing up in that racing family and working with horses for nearly 30 years, Turner was offered a high-profile role as commentator and presenter on Sky Thoroughbred Central, where she has shone.

She says there are increasing numbers of opportunities for women in racing. 

“We are seeing more females hold their own on big race days, whether it be working as a stablehand, work rider, which later could progress to an apprentice jockey or trainer.”

Turner added: “A horse’s health is paramount to all involved [in the industry] and therefore job opportunities as chiropractors, vets and acupuncturists are also career paths a young girl may want to take.”

A former jockey and close worker alongside her mother, Turner provides her racing insights and tips as well as presenting on Sky Thoroughbred Central in northern NSW.

Bagging nine winners at a ripping strike rate of 56 per cent, Turner provided the highest Profit on Turnover (PoT) of 73 per cent in January this year, in only her second month as a presenter and form analyst.

“I absolutely love my job with Sky Racing and if I can be the best version of myself in this position I will be happy. The harder you work, the more opportunities will come along.” she says.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, Angela Graham has a small but growing stable, with younger horses filtering through. At present she’s focusing on short-term goals.

“ I would like to continue to deliver consistent results for our owners, giving our horses every chance,” she says. 

“With our racer What’s Onemore, maybe a local cup or even a TAB Highway at a suitable trip. It would be awesome to have a runner in town [metropolitan grade] .”

Of course, the wider Graham stable also features that star horse Victorem, or Arnie as he’s known, trained by Jenny Graham. He holds a special place in Turner’s heart.

As Turner says: “I can’t put into words what he means to me. I am so grateful for the journey he has taken not only myself but my family and his connections on. He’s been with our stable since he was a yearling and has taken us on the ride of our life.”

Victorem has flown the Graham flag for the past four years, delivering eight wins from 25 race starts and eight minor placings, accumulating more than $1.3m in prize money along the way. This year he will make his third tilt at the Kosciusko, which Turner believes he “deserves” to win.

He is a little horse from the bush who gives his all every time he steps onto the track, and to have a horse with his ability in our stable is an absolute treat.

Melinda Turner

Turner adds: “He might not be a superstar, but he’s been amazing to us.”