When the 1915 Melbourne Cup was run and won, history was made for a very unusual reason considering the times, for Patrobas, the star 3 year old colt sporting rose pink silks was the first Melbourne Cup winner to be owned by a woman.
Mrs Edith Widdis, along with her husband John were major landowners in the Gippsland region of Victoria. Being both keen racing enthusiasts, they each purchased yearlings at the sales of 1914 to be run by each other individually. Mrs Widdis selected a dark bay colt with bloodlines tracing back to the legendary Carbine. She had considerable success with her little horse and by the time Patrobas had stuck his head out and won the Cup in a deceptive finish, he had also claimed the Caulfield Guineas and the Victorian Derby, races only open to 3 year olds to compete. To this day he is the only horse to win all 3 blue ribbon races in the same year. A feat that will probably never be repeated considering the last 3 year old to win the Cup was Skipton in 1941. In 2007 a statue in Patrobas honour was erected in his home town of Rosedale, Victoria.
At the time the VRC Members was off limits to women, as the race clubs were still very much a "Boys Club", but an exception was grudgingly made on this occasion to allow Mrs Widdis to claim her prize and celebrate her victory.
It's a far cry from today, women like Gai Waterhouse and Sheila Laxon, who with Ethereal in 2001 became the first woman to officially train a Melbourne Cup winner( 1938 winner Catalogue is said to have been trained by Mrs A McDonald despite her husband being credited in the racebook), have been able to compete with great success. Although still a minority, women are certainly afforded more opportunities in racing now than ever before.
On the other end of the scale I found this excerpt from Nat Gould's 1895 book "Turf Life In the Colonies"
"There are thousands of ladies at Flemington on Derby and Cup days, who visit the racecourse out of pure love of the sport, combined with a natural feminine desire to be seen and to see others. The women punters however, are a nuisance on the turf. After considerable experience, I have found that once a woman takes to gambling, it absorbs her whole thoughts, and gambling leads to other things, such as champagne and its attendant consequences.
To the credit of the racecourse secretaries and officials, be it said, that they use every endeavour to keep loose women off their courses, and in this they succeed admirably"
How things have changed, and thank god they have!!