Cup day numbers: the women of the races

06 Nov 2012

Thousands of women go to the races: women in hats, women in fascinators, women in heels that sink into the grass. There are women who bet, women who drink, and women who compete for Best Dressed prizes. Women called Nicole Kidman in head-to-toe lace at Derby Day.

But there's only one horse racing in the Melbourne Cup today actually owned by a woman.

Judi Wanless owns a mare called 'Lights of Heaven'. She's a Kiwi ex-pat who owns a number of horses at the Trelawney stud in New Zealand, who's been in the business all her life. The horse was trained by Peter Moody, who trained the unstoppable champion, Black Caviar. She's had six wins from18 starts, winning a total of $1,193,688 so far in  prize money. She's not a favourite to win the Cup, with odds sitting at $17 by the time of publication - but she is the only one with a female owner.

In fact, just 23% of horse-owners in Australia are female.

But Katie Page-Harvey, co-owner and director of Magic Millions Sales, is trying to change that trend. In January 2013, she's offering a financial incentive for women to buy horses. It's called the Women's Bonus Incentive, and it could award a female owner more than $1 million. When horses owned by women race in the Two Year Old Classic on January 12, the first four across the line could win a share in $2 million bonus cash.

Page-Harvey launched the incentive as part of a broader campaign to coax more women into prominent roles in horse racing. She and her husband, Gerry Harvey, are one of the most powerful retail couples in Australia. Page-Harvey has been in the racing industry since 1983, and she's always believed that women should be more involved.

As part of her plan to raise the profile of women in racing, she's invited Olympic equestrian silver medallist Zara Phillips to be the Magic Millions Women's Racing Ambassador for 2013. Phillips, as you may know, is also the Queen's granddaughter. As Magic Millions spokesperson Meghaan Ruscoe says, "Zara comes from the UK, where horse racing is the sport of kings. But in Australia, it's everyone sport. It's a lifestyle, and once you're in it, you're in it for life."

That's certainly true of Page-Harvey and Phillips, who have spent much of their lives riding, breeding and racing thoroughbreds.

We have female power brokers in horse racing already, of course. Gai Waterhouse is one of Australia's finest horse trainers, so visible on the racing scene that her name is virtually synonymous with the sport. Waterhouse is an exceptional businesswoman, yearling judge and trainer. She's easily one of the most prominent people in Australian sport, but as a woman in racing, she's a rarity.

If Katie Page-Harvey has anything to do with it, there could be more women standing in the winners' circle at the Melbourne Cup next year. You could bet on it.

Kate Leaver

Kate Leaver is a journalist, columnist and radio producer.

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