Women wanted: boost for Mickaelle Michel as JRA relaxes admission rules for female riders

Mickaelle Michel (left) and Nanako Fujita in Japan, where the pair could be riding in competition this winter

By Jon Lees

Japan: French riding sensation Mickaelle Michel’s chances of riding regularly on Japan’s premier circuit have received a major boost after the strict qualifying criteria for short-term licences were relaxed.

At the end of the summer, Michel plans to return to the Far East to sit the first part of the JRA licence course for a permanent licence.

She was a massive hit in Japan earlier this year when she set a new record of wins by a visiting jockey on a short-term licence on the second-tier National Association of Racing,

Japan now wants to encourage more elite women jockeys like her to participate in its racing and this week announced a different set of eligibility rules to those for men, who must either be champions of their country or winners of G1 races like the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, for a short-term licence.

“It’s fantastic news,” said Michel’s partner and agent Frederic Spanu. “It means Mickaelle can make an application for the JRA short-term licence. She is so happy and excited.

“But she will also take the test for a permanent JRA licence on September 29 – if obviously we can get on the plane.”

Horse Racing Mickaelle Michel jockey
Mickaelle Michel: hopes to be back in Japan this winter. Photo: Photo: Masakazu Takahashi

To qualify, jockeys from the UK and France must be the leading female in their country in either of the last two seasons, have ridden more than ten winners and ranked in the top 50 for prize-money, or ridden a G1 winner. There are similar criteria for riders from the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Only five short-term licences will be granted at any one time.

In Japan, Nanako Fujita is the only female jockey riding the JRA circuit but more females are entering the jockey school and the governing body wants more role models for them.

A spokesman for the JRA said: “The purpose of this rule introduction is to create a better open environment for more female jockeys to take part in our races. 

“We currently have a number of female students at our racing school. By introducing a separate criteria for overseas female jockeys to ride in Japan, we hope that the best female jockeys will be able to get a short-term licence and hopefully be great role models for the females in Japan and influence them to become a jockey as well as having a positive impact in the Japanese horse racing industry.”

Michel was sponsored by the powerful Shadai Farm on her last trip to Japan where visiting jockeys must also find an owner and trainer to support them.

She will also need coronavirus restrictions to be lifted as Japan is currently not allowing foreigners into the country due to Covid-19.

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