Over the years I have had the good fortune to attend the Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival on many occasions and there was always a good turnout from the football sector. You could be confident you would bump into someone you knew from another club. The atmosphere at the course and around the town during Cheltenham week is always electric and the influx of racing enthusiasts from the Emerald Isle just adds to the atmosphere.
This year the build-up to Cheltenham has been somewhat overshadowed by the controversy surrounding photographs of leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse. Elliott was suspended for his actions, but it has brought racing into disrepute and upset the thousands of people who work in the racing industry who love their equine friends so much.
When I was a teenager, I used to go riding each week and rode an array of former flat racehorses. I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to ride a horse at speed. There is nothing quite like being involved with a winning horse either and I have been fortunate enough to be invited to go into the paddock pre-race with my good friend John Humphreys and the now Fulham manager Scott Parker and that is a big thrill.
Racing has historically been dominated by male jockeys and the consensus was that women were not as strong or as powerful as their male counterparts particularly in a race finish. Well last week that theory was totally blown out of the water!
Irish jockey Rachel Blackmore stole the show at Cheltenham and that in a week when 23 races of the total of 28 races were won by Irish trainers and jockeys. Had there been a crowd the Irish spectators would have raised the roof over and over again.
Last Friday Rachel rode her sixth winner of the week she only just failed to win the prestigious Gold Cup.
Speaking on TV former champion jockey Sir Tony McCoy said he never thought a woman could be champion jockey and he described Rachel as better than any woman rider he can remember. Rachel was the first ever woman to ride the winner of the Champion Hurdle last week and the truth is that many punters would have thought twice about backing her mount because of that historical record.
Of course, Rachel has done far more last week than just win a few races. She has proved that given the best rides women can be every bit as good as their male peers.
As Chairman and CEO of Integral Sports we are fortunate to have conditional jockey Emma Smith-Chaston as a client and we believe she has a bright future. She recently broke her collar bone in a fall but will soon return to the saddle.
Speaking to Emma she said: “Rachel is an inspiration to all women jockeys like myself and what she achieved last week at Cheltenham shows that given the opportunities women can achieve success at the highest level of our sport”. Emma like Rachel comes from a working-class background and there has been no privilege involved. They simply love horses and love the sport.
Both Rachel now and in due course we hope Emma are flying the flag for equality in sport.
Peter Varney, Chairman Integral Sports Management
Image – Getty Images