Strength, resolve, talent and independence keep Joanna Morgan ahead of the field

At a time when female jockeys encountered sexism, Joanna Morgan bucked the consensus

19/12/14 - NEWS - Tanaiste Joan Burton presenting Joanna Morgan, trainer and former jockey, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award  at the 10th Annual  The Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Year awards.Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

19/12/14 - NEWS - Tanaiste Joan Burton presenting Joanna Morgan, trainer and former jockey, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 10th Annual The Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Year awards.Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Since Ireland in the 1970s was hardly noted for a progressive attitude towards equality, it is safe to say Joanna Morgan brought the country with her when it came to fundamentally altering the perception of women within racing here.

That she is now a lauded and much-cherished member of that same Irish racing community is testament to how much has changed, but also recognition of the strength, resolve, bloody-minded talent and independence of thought with which Morgan has refused to be professionally defined by her gender over the last 40 years.

When Morgan arrived in Ireland in 1974 as a 21-year-old ex-point to point rider from her native Crickhowell in Wales, she encountered an ingrained prejudice towards women riding racehorses. It had been only in 1972 that the Turf Club first licensed women to ride at all. To Morgan the desire to try and become a professional jockey was straightforward; to many others it was revolutionary.

To his credit, her boss Seamus McGrath was prepared to trust the evidence of his eyes and within four years his talented protegee became the first female professional to ride at Royal Ascot. On one memorable occasion she beat no less than Lester Piggott in a photo finish at the Curragh. At the same track she became the first woman to ride in an Irish classic on board Riot Helmet in the 1976 Derby.

Unique place

Diane CrumpJulie Krone

Jockeys such as Nina Carberry in this country and Hayley Turner in the UK are now paid the professional compliment of their gender being considered irrelevant, but it required decades of perseverance and vision from a select few for that to have occurred, and only the most dewy-eyed can pretend prejudice still doesn’t lurk under the surface.

The unique and undulating gradient of many tracks here, not to mention a climate that fosters soft ground conditions, continues to encourage a belief that physical strength is a prime requirement for jockeys in a way that doesn’t apply to uniform, flat oval tracks in the US and elsewhere.

Training

Unlike most racing yards, where horses spend most of their time in stables, Morgan favours turning them out in fields, nurturing the animal as well as the athlete.

Forty years after arriving in Ireland, Morgan has carved out a unique niche for herself within racing. That is her achievement, and Ireland’s good fortune.

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