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When Diane Crump became the first female jockey to ride in a pari-mutuel race at Hialeah Park in Florida 38 years ago, six male jockeys declined to ride against her.

The next year, in 1970, she became the first to ride in the Kentucky Derby, too. She wasn't on a favourite and finished at the back of the pack.

Last Sunday, nobody boycotted Emma-Jayne Wilson, who became the first female rider to win the Queen's Plate in its 148-year history. She wasn't riding a favourite, either.

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Ms. Wilson is part of a new generation of women who are getting live mounts and winning races, especially in Ontario.

Of the 50 riders at Woodbine racetrack, the premier track in the country, six are female. Three of them are in the top 10, with Ms. Wilson being the leading money-winning rider so far this season.

And women in Ontario have won seven of the past nine apprentice jockey awards at the Sovereigns - the Oscars of Canadian thoroughbred racing.

But although it's easier to find women with lighter bone and muscle structures than men, female jockeys have found they can't afford to make the same mistakes as their male counterparts, and that they have to work twice as hard in a business that is already extremely competitive and discouraging.

Thirty or 40 years ago, trainers figured women didn't have the strength to control a spirited thoroughbred going at full tilt around a race course. Ms. Wilson defies that concept. Her agent, Mike Luider, describes her as "strong as a lumberjack," although she weighs just 109 pounds.

But it is still extremely rare to find female jockeys in the top 20 at major tracks in the United States, such as Belmont Park in New York, Kentucky's Churchill Downs or Del Mar in California.

On a website devoted to female jockeys, Femalejockeys.com, one says in an interview: "Female jockeys don't go over too well in the West."

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Canadian jockey Laurie Gulas found out the hard way, when she plied her trade at Del Mar years ago. At 4-foot-9, she weighed 99 pounds and had enough cheek to hold her own in a male-dominated jockeys' room.

After she defeated a leading rider while riding the longest shot on the board, the disgruntled jockey began to scream at her. She punched him in the nose and won respect from the male colony.

Because she was one of the few female jockeys in the room, Ms. Gulas had to change in the barbershop at the track. Other female riders from the past have had no room at all, with no area in which to shower or change.

Woodbine has a separate change room for its female jockeys, but it tends to dampen the camaraderie that exists among jockeys.

Later, Ms. Gulas became the first female jockey to win a Canadian Triple Crown race when she scored with Free Vacation, also a female, in the 1999 Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine. Ms. Gulas eventually retired, felled by serious injuries.

Ms. Wilson said she's never punched a male jockey, but in the early days of her career there may have been one or two trainers hesitant about using an untested female jockey. "But I've proved myself, that I'm every bit as good and strong and smart as any other rider, male or female, out there," she said.

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"It's a man's world, as much as you make it to be," she added. "You command respect, you get respect. Whether you're male or female has nothing to do with it."

She said her victory may be just the beginning of a new trend and that, at the moment, it's a numbers game. There are female riders with ability and talent, but just not enough of them yet.

"At our age, a lot of women want to be mothers, and it's definitely an industry where having children is very difficult," said Chantal Sutherland, one of Canada's other top female jockeys.

"It's a very time-consuming industry. And there are other variables. You have to be small and strong. It's a dangerous job, too. It's not fun to get hurt."

But Ms. Wilson said the most important factor is working hard and being tenacious. She uses her own Queen's Plate win as an example of the attitude women - or men - need to succeed in the business.

"Mike Fox was beaten at the three-eighths pole," she said, referring to her mount. "Mike Fox was beaten at the quarter pole. Mike Fox was beaten at the eighths pole, and he still won."

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Ms. Wilson says she appreciates the significance of what she has done, "but I'm just glad we don't ever have to say it again. It'll be the second and the third and the fourth time, and then they won't even say it."

Ms. Wilson says defining yourself as a female rider just segregates your from the ultimate goal: being a top rider.

Ms. Sutherland takes a different approach to success in the business. Doubling as a model, she says she'll use her sexuality to get noticed. She even did a photo shoot for Vogue magazine, posing on a horse in little more than her underwear.

It helps, she said, in a competitive business.

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