France Galop female jockey rule criticised by Turner, Gordon and Kirby

The Girls Team of Sammy Jo Bell, Emma-Jayne Wilson and Hayley Turner celebrate their victory with the Shergar Cup
Female jockeys including Sammy Jo Bell, Emma-Jayne Wilson and Hayley Turner compete against men in the Shergar Cup

A new rule in France allowing horses with female jockeys to carry less weight has been labelled "unfair", "offensive" and "patronising".

Governing body France Galop will allow 2kg (4.4lbs) less in the saddle to encourage use of female riders.

Group One-winning jockey Hayley Turner wants "more subtle" help, adding: "It seems a bit unfair on the lads."

The British Horseracing Authority noted the move "with great interest" but has "currently no plans" to do the same.

Jean-Pierre Colombu, vice president of France Galop, said the rule change provided a "real opportunity" for female riders.

'4lbs is two lengths'

There are 53 female and 354 male professional jockeys in Britain.

Around 90% of races in France will be subject to the rule change, though listed and group races will be exempt.

Apprentice and conditional jockeys in the UK are given a weight allowance, which in theory combats their inexperience by reducing the burden on a horse.

But leading male jockey Adam Kirby believes a 2kg reduction for women would be too much.

Kirby said: "It's ridiculous, isn't it? 4lbs is two lengths. I appreciate women might not be as strong as boys, but riding in races is not about strength, it's about positioning, rhythm and things like that."

"Offensive" and "patronising"

Josephine Gordon became just the third woman to win the British flat racing Champion Apprentice title in 2016
Josephine Gordon became just the third woman to win the British flat racing Champion Apprentice title in 2016

In 94 years of the British flat racing Champion Apprentice title, only three female riders in Turner, Amy Ryan and Josephine Gordon - in 2016 - have won the honour.

Gordon, who turned professional in November and has eight wins this season, believes there will be a female champion jockey in the next 15 years.

She said: "I think an allowance would give a lot more females more opportunities to get rides at lower weights, but personally, I find it a bit offensive.

"Last year I had a claim and was competing against the male apprentices and I won it fair and square."

Jane Elliott, who has four wins from her last eight rides, described the French move as "a bit patronising".

"If you did get a 4lb allowance, I'd be expecting to get five rides a day in handicaps," she said. "It's such a big amount of weight to be giving jockeys."

Will the UK follow suit?

Turner, who became the first woman to ride 100 winners in a calendar year in 2008, added: "I very much doubt it will happen in the UK. I'd be disappointed if it did, to be honest."

The BHA intends to speak to French authorities and the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) before deciding if it should "consult more widely across our sport".

The governing body claims as many women have graduated as apprentices as men in recent years.

The PJA said it was "unaware" the rule change was coming in France, adding: "The feedback we've had is that it isn't something the majority of our female members would want.

"There are plenty of female riders out there who are at least as good as their peers, and we have no doubt that such a weight allowance would put them at a significant advantage and increase their opportunities.

"Whether it is the right thing to do or is necessary is another matter, but it is important we canvass the views of our members, which we will do."

But jump jockey Lucy Alexander, the first female to become champion conditional in 2012-13, said she would "welcome" the change, adding: "The BHA should look at it."

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