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Eon On Top Of The World In Sweden

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Maryline Eon receives her trophy from Benny Andersson | racingfotos.com

By Tom Peacock

SWEDEN–It could hardly be argued strongly that Tuesday’s inaugural Lady Jockeys’ Thoroughbred World Championship did not deliver a suitable winner.

Maryline Eon was the highest-placed woman in the French standings last year and recently broke new ground, as well as earning wider recognition, when becoming the first female to ride in the G1 Prix de Diane Longines.

Certainly this invitational competition at Europe’s newest racecourse Bro Park just outside Stockholm has a grand title and forms part of loftier aspirations by Swedish racing organisers Svensk Gallopp. However, its purpose is rather to offer some accessible, enjoyable sport that gains promotion than an intention to disrupt the global order of the Turf on its own.

Eon took two of the five races, with the selection of predominately locally-trained horses decided by a team of independent experts to give each rider one strong chance, two medium and a couple of outsiders. The 22-year-old had just enough points in hand to hold off the Dane Sara Slot, whose mount Norse Magic (GB) (Norse Dancer {Ire}) pipped her Loop De Li (Swe) (Merchant Of Venice) close home in the finale.

Eon received her trophy from the competition’s patron, ABBA’s Benny Andersson.

“I wasn’t very confident even though I’ve ridden in the Prix de Diane,” she said. “It’s been a really good experience and I hope other lady jockeys will have the same experience.”

Andersson is more a benign figurehead than a driving force of the LJTWC, even crediting its creation to the presenter and event compere Derek Thompson. A renowned owner-breeder, he is a regular and recognisable face at the course, not least as his appearance is slightly greyer but otherwise undiminished since the 70s pop glory days.

 

“It was a fun idea, I don’t know who first said it, was it Tommo?” he said. “There were races last year (when Bro Park opened) with female jockeys. They asked me and I said ‘fine’, I’ll support it.”

It is the limit of his administrative ambitions, though. “I’ve been at this for 25 years, maybe more, and I’ve tried to stay away from the politics in racing. I do my own stuff.”

Andersson is fascinated by British racing and is already looking forward to the debut of his Amanda Perrett-trained filly Sing A Rainbow (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) out of his homebred Group 3 winner Beatrice Aurore (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}). He has also had a number trained in Sweden by Jessica Long.

“It’s a small sport in this country, very small compared to the trotting business,” he continued. “This track, it’s just one year old, is going to be really nice. It’s nice already. It’s a decent track compared to the other two tracks we have in this country, the old one in Täby and also in Jägersro.”

Taken strongly in context, the LJTWC felt more like the demonstration year for a sport at an Olympic Games before it received full recognition. Nonetheless, there were very few obvious omissions from the line-up with the American Chantal Sutherland having to drop out late and reduce the line-up to nine.

Michelle Payne is suspended and there is a strong suspicion the organisers will attempt to attract Josephine Gordon along next year, along with a title sponsor.

Above all, rather than the moderate handicappers they were riding, it was about the names, with Hayley Turner’s brief second stint out of retirement taking the headlines in Britain, even if she finished last overall. Each played along with a spirit that might have been less forthcoming from leading male counterparts.

Kei Chiong has been the sole representative of her sex in Hong Kong while Danielle Johnson, who is likely to finish second in the New Zealand championship, looked particularly assured aboard Stonefield Flyer (GB) (Kheleyf) in the opening contest and took overall third.

There was plenty of sympathy for the charismatic and clearly competent Slot. Her book reduced to three after a couple of non-runners, she won twice and finished second on the other, delivering Flying Barrel (Swe) (Zaahid {Ire}) with aplomb in leg two over a mile.

Public interest and betting on thoroughbred racing here is still dwarfed by turnover on trotting, and breeding almost a cottage industry. No-one ever knows exactly why, but one school of thought is that trotting seemingly has more egalitarian connotations and the horses become more familiar.

Attendance, not including a pleasantly surprising amount of dogs on leads, was close to a couple of thousand and considered fairly decent for a Tuesday night given it takes about 40 minutes to reach from the capital. The grass course is a galloping, slightly undulating circuit of a mile and a quarter benefitting hold-up horses, with a small, smart and typically modern Scandinavian grandstand.

Svensk Gallopp went out on a limb to acquire the Bro Park land and there may well be a similar plan to replace Jägersro with a new facility in Malmö.

“If Swedish racing was a stock, I’d say it was an emerging market,” said Dennis Madsen, the head of racing. “It’s where you should put your money!

“I think we’ve got world-class trainers and world-class jockeys, but to be able to compete at the top level you need the right stock.”

The sport benefits from state-monopolised betting and subsidy from the trotting but looming on the horizon in 2019 will be the movement of wagering to the open market.

Part of Madsen and his team’s brief will be to ensure the thoroughbred arm remains attractive and competitive to a home audience with the potential to sell it overseas.

Certainly supportive of this event was Julian McLaren. The slick young Swede of Scottish descent currently has 17 in his yard, placing him in the top quartile of roughly 20 trainers based in purpose-built stables just across from Bro Park.

“I think it’s brilliant,” he said. “We’re a very competitive country. We want to be able to compete with the likes of the UK, Germany, Ireland. We’ve got the prize-money for it, we need to open up the market, for people to see our racing and keep coming back.

“I’m very optimistic about the future. We’ve got racing on Wednesday lunchtimes, some evening meetings, and the way the turf races are run seems to give plenty of them chances.”

Roy Kvisla, who was based in Lambourn for a few seasons and is now at the same facility, is broadly in agreement. “We’re doing OK,” he said. “There’s been some tough times but it’s far better to look at the positives than the negatives.”

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