I come from a family of racing enthusiasts. We would spend the day after every Thanksgiving at Aquaduct Race Track in Queens, and I grew up understanding way more about the racing world than your typical young girl. So I’m not at all surprised by the news that a female jockey was discriminated against in California. Unfortunately that type of thing is rampant in the industry.
In what they are calling a “misunderstanding” between Australian jockey Kayla Stra and a steward at Betfair Hollywood Park, Stra was reportedly asked not to breastfeed in the women’s jockey room at the park. To be honest, the only thing that surprises me here is that Betfair Park even has a woman’s jockey room, which isn’t a common thing in the racing world.
According to Stra, who appeared on the Roger Stein radio show to talk about what happened, Kim Sawyer, one of the stewards, told her agent Richie Silverstein that she needed to choose between being a mother and being a jockey. In the end Stra was assigned a separate room in which to nurse her son and care for any other duties deemed unfit for the regular women’s room. Which is funny, because if you can’t nurse a baby then what exactly IS okay in the women’s jockey room? You expose was less of yourself nursing than you do changing or showering. And what kills me is this is all over the fact that there was one other female jockey using the room. A jockey that did NOT complain or have any issues sharing a changing room with a nursing mother and her nanny.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the California Horse Racing Board Chairman David Israel is taking this situation very seriously:
“Kayla Stra’s baby can be in the jocks’ room. Her nanny can be with the baby. And both the mother and the nanny can do all the things they need to do. The CHRB will not tolerate discrimination in any form against anyone for any reason. No special rooms. No one goes to the back of the damn bus. Period. In order for a new mother to do her job, certain accommodations need to be made. We clearly do not have a nursery at any of our race tracks, and I don’t expect them to be constructed any time soon. Not only can a jockey also be a mother, I’d like to encourage women to consider the possibility and the profession. It is the right thing to do and it is good business.”
These are very strong words, which is surprising to me considering the “good old boys” element of the racing world that is well known for pushing women out and discriminating against them.
I don’t want to hold my breath on the hopes that this is a turning point in the racing world for female jockeys with kids. What goes on in California is not what goes on everywhere, but for for now women like Stra will be able to exercise their rights there, and I think that while that isn’t enough it’s at least a step in the right direction.