Though Pride has reached many branches of competitive sports around the world, the horse racing industry has been significantly late to the game. To date, only two major horse racing personalities, jockeys Jack Duern and Victoria Smith, have come out openly to the racing community. Unlike other sporting circles, there have been few disciples who have felt comfortable following in their prideful footsteps.
So what is it about the horse racing community that stops its members from speaking out? As a sport that has a long history of cross-dressing to avoid discrimination, it is a wonder that horse racing is still such a closed community.
The pride of Australian horse racing… was a woman
In the early 1900s, Australia watched the rise of Bill Smith as both a jockey and a trainer. It wasn’t until her death in 1975 that the horse racing community discovered that Bill was actually a woman. Wilhemina ‘Bill’ Smith lived most of her adult life as a man so as not to allow gender to get in the way of pursuing her dreams to be an award-winning jockey and trainer in the Australian horse racing industry and award-winning she was. Wilhemina took out the top prizes in numerous coveted races including two Sydney Cups, two Epsoms, a Caulfield Cup, and the Metropolitan Handicap.
The death and gender discovery of Wilhemina ‘Bill’ Smith was what ultimately lead the Australian Horse Racing Association to change its rules in 1975 to allow female jockeys to ride competitively in Australian horse racing. The Geelong Cup was one of the first to allow a female entrant in 1983, New Zealand jockey Debbie Hanley, who ultimately won the race, though the Geelong Cup odds were certainly not on her side.
The world’s first openly transgender jockey
Vince Smith held a 17-year career as a jockey, taking over 250 wins under his belt before deciding to transition in 2017. In 2018 Victoria Smith made world history as the first-ever jockey to ride as both a man and a woman. This incredible feat in racing history took place in the UK with an incredible audience cheering wildly in the grandstands of Warwick Racecourse in the United Kingdom. Victoria rode Roy Rocket that day, a six-time winning 8-year-old horse, and though she didn’t take the first prize, the 53-year-old will remain as a shining example in LGBTQIA racing history.
A few lengths to go in the racing industry
Though the sport of horse racing in the UK seems to be a few lengths ahead in supporting LGBTQIA, the rest of the world is slowly beginning to catch up. With more and more prominent jockeys, trainers and owners showing their support for the colleagues who have chosen to come out publicly as part of the industry, the way forward is becoming more clear for those who plan to follow in the brave footsteps of others.
As the Australian Spring Racing Carnival begins to heat up for 2021 it can only be hoped that the leaders of the LGBTQIA community within the industry serve as a positive example of acceptance and encouragement. Though the sport still has a way to go in becoming an industry leader in support of LGBTQIA members, all signs point to the positive reactions of the community towards its members now and throughout history who have chosen to speak out.