Cheltenham Festival Sports Personality Horse Racing By Jon Ivan-Duke

Sir AP McCoy Backs Allowance For Female Jockeys

Sir Anthony McCoy is adamant the new female riding allowance in France will help women jockeys and is a good thing. The 20-time Champion also discusses whether or not Willie Mullins will dominate at the Cheltenham Festival and his ante-post picks for the big races...

I haven’t changed my stance that a female riding allowance is a good thing. If anything I’ve hardened my view since originally mentioning it. Back when I first discussed the possibility, Michelle Payne had just won the Melbourne Cup and said racing was chauvinistic. She said she was as good and capable as any man and I don’t doubt that, but statistically women have found it difficult to compete for opportunities and I want women to have more chances. Lizzie Kelly won a Grade 1 last season, she gave it a great ride, but did it do a lot for her career? Has she ridden 50 more winners this year? No, because of a lack of opportunity and whether Michelle or Lizzie like it or not, trainers opt for a bloke most of the time. I genuinely think women jockeys in France will now have a better chance of making a living.

When I aired my views before, I had a few female jockeys who didn’t speak to me for a while. Some of them still don’t. They thought I was saying women jockeys weren’t as good as men and that is not what I was saying at all.

Given the number of women in racing yards there should be a higher percentage getting opportunities to be jockeys. There needs to be more incentive for women to pursue a career in racing and currently very few have the chance to make a living out of being a jockey. I’ve listened to different female jockeys saying they feel patronised by it and that it is sexist. I did hear one successful female jockey saying if all her winners had been ridden with a claim she would have felt like she was cheating. But then she was asked would she come back riding if she was given a claim and she said yes. Well, for me, therein lies the answer to the question “will women get more opportunities with an allowance?” – Yes, they will.

If I was female, I’d be riding in France by the morning, because it’s a great opportunity and incentive. It will hopefully encourage more young girls to get involved with the sport.

Willie Mullins is missing three absolute Champions from Cheltenham, with Vautour sadly departed and Annie Power and Faugheen both injured. Min was going to be a big player in the Arkle. Even with the strength of Willie Mullins’ yard, it will have a huge effect not being able to go to the Festival with those horses. Over the years we have seen cycles of trainers being really dominant; the likes of Michael Dickinson, Martin Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins. For what it’s worth, I still think Willie will win a lot of races.

Sir Anthony McCoy’s Picks For Cheltenham Festival’s Championship Races

Champion Hurdle: I’d probably side with Yanworth at this stage. I liked the way he won at Kempton on a track that didn’t necessarily suit him

Queen Mother Champion Chase: Douvan only has to jump round to win. It will just be a school round for him. I wouldn’t even consider Altior for the race, I’d just go and win an Arkle with him. Douvan has no flaws, he has it all and he could win over any trip

Stayers’ Hurdle: I’d really struggle to pick between Unowhatimeanharry and Jezki, if he goes there. Unowhatimeanharry keeps winning but he’s not taken on a horse of the calibre of Jezki yet. If I had to back one, I’d go with Jezki at the price…but if I had to ride one, I’d probably choose Unowhatimeanharry

Gold Cup: Would I like to ride Thistlecrack in a Gold Cup? Yes. Would I back him at the prices? No. I just have this thing in my head that he might not stay up the Cheltenham hill. I think if Bristol De Mai beats Native River at Newbury he could be a big player in the Gold Cup and at the current odds he would be my value bet.