Spurred by a history-making win in Saudi Arabia at the weekend, champion Whanganui jockey Lisa Allpress has urged the New Zealand racing industry to get involved in the richest race in the world extravaganza - the Saudi Cup carnival.
Allpress became the first female jockey to win a race under rules in Saudi Arabia when taking the opening leg of the inaugural Kingdom Day International Jockey Challenge in Saudi Arabia on a locally trained horse Matmon owned by King Abdullah.
The Kiwi jockey was one of seven women, including English rider Nicola Currie, to ride competitively in the country for the first time. The international jockey's challenge was a four -race series held the day before the first running of the richest race on the planet, the $US20 million Saudi Cup run on the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh.
Allpress finished joint-third in the points-based contest with French jockey Mickaelle Michel on 15 points. Swiss rider Sibylle Vogt, who won the last of the four $400,000 legs, finished second on 29 points.
Allpress, who last season won the NZ jockeys premiership for the third time, said she was thrilled with the "ground-breaking" win.
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"I came here with an open mind and had no expectations," said Allpress. "I've never felt like I'm a female jockey. We compete against men all the time and can achieve everything they do."
"My idol is Frankie Dettori. I'm so happy I beat him," she said after finishing ahead of Canadian Emma-Jayne Wilson in the final race.
US Triple Crown-winning jockey "Big Money Mike" Smith was crowned top jockey, earning the $30,000 bonus with two wins. He rode Midnight Bisou into second in the $20m Saudi Cup the following day (last Sunday NZ time).
"It's a great way to start," he said. "It's the first time women have had the opportunity to ride here. They proved they belong at any course, against anyone, at any time."
While other equestrian sports have long been open to both sexes, the event represented a change in policy in a country that has been heavily criticised over its record on women's rights.
However, Allpress said she and the other female riders could not have been treated better.
"We were all welcomed with open arms. In our jockey's room we were given two female valets to help us out and there had to be females on the medical teams in case anyone needed to touch us - Saudi men are not allowed to even touch women unless they are married to them. Other than that it was just like anywhere else in the world," Allpress said.
Winning the first race in the challenge came as a complete surprise after going through all four of her race-day mounts in the lead up with the chief steward and the Saudi handicapper, an Englishman.
"I was lucky because I arrived a lot earlier than many of the others. The chief steward and the handicapper were only too happy to go through my rides with me and my ride in the last came out as my best with a second and a fourth in its formline, so it was a really big surprise to win the first. I wasn't nervous at all, even for the first."
Allpress said all the other riders were friendly and extremely approachable.
"I think I have a new idol now. Frankie Dettori was, but Mike Smith was just so friendly and talked to Karl [her husband] for ages and Emma-Jayne Wilson was amazing. I said to Karl I thought she was just like Lisa Cropp back in the old days. And Olivier Peslier, who has ridden over there for about six years, was a real hardcase and so funny.
"I think New Zealand really does need to send somebody over ahead of next year's Saudi Cup. We really do need to be involved - someone like David Ellis would be ideal," Allpress said.