Kerryn Manning's historic victory in last month's New Zealand Trotting Cup with Arden Rooney captured headlines around the Southern Hemisphere. As the first female driver to win the great race, the Australian native will forever remembered for her effort. The history of females driving in races in New Zealand runs a lot deeper than November 10, 2015.BELLA BUTTON. Sounds a lot like a Saturday morning children's television character doesn't it? Maybe it's the alliteration of her name, which does it. After all, Dexter Dunn has a certain ring to it. You would think that might be where the comparisons between the two might stop. But it's far from the finish. You see, Button was setting records and creating history more than 100 years before Double D was born. It was her, along with others, who set the wheels in motion for females driving in harness racing. And therefore it was Button who played a major part in the success of Kerryn Manning when she broke the New Zealand Trotting Cup hoodoo at Addington last month and became the first female to win the great race from the sulky. Button created history in harness racing for the first time on record in 1890 when she and her trusty steed, Star, whom she also both owned and trained, rallied to success in the first race at the inaugural Ashburton Trotting Club meeting in Mid Canterbury. At a similar time Ethel Abbott was granted a licence by the Otahuhu Trotting Club at the ripe age of 16. Both were given one day club permits to drive at selected meetings but official licences were issued at a national level and despite a modicum of success for both, they were constantly refused. Eventually the rejection drove Button away from the industry, although she did remain involved through her New Brighton establishment Brooklyn Lodge where it was reported she was in demand when it came to difficult racehorses. Despite her premature departure from trotting, Button left an everlasting mark, as did Abbott, and the presence of female drivers was forever a distant buzz in the ears of administrators who didn't see it fit for females to be competing against their male counterparts. The issue wasn't just isolated to New Zealand though. Harness racing in all corners was having the same debate and archaic values were trumping every argument with comment being thrown from all sectors that women were not fit to compete in fully fledged races. Walter Moore who was a much regarded American harness racing journalist wrote the following in the Horse Review in 1918 and it underlines the battles females faced not only in America, but in Australia and New Zealand too.He wrote..."I cannot refrain from giving my views on the situation which were formed after seeing one of the most prominent women drives in the central states drive in a number of races. Mrs Chas. H Deyo takes the position that as woman are at the present called upon to perform labour; they should be allowed to drive professional races against the men. I think if trainers are so situated that their wives can accompany the stable of a campaign and act as bookkeeper, that is a very fine arrangement. Their work does not bring them into unpleasant situations, and they find it both healthful and interesting. They are splendid women, informed on all subjects, and are not horse bugs saturated with horse knowledge and conversation alone, but are better equipped in the finer things of the world than many ladies who have never been inside of a training stable.But to see a woman get up and drive in a race in a big field of hoppled pacers, or trotters for that matter - probably the danger is no greater in one place than it is in the other - makes a real lady look entirely out of place to me. To see her beating and banging an old pacer through the stretch makes me think that the mothers of old are gone forever. I am thankful that I have never seen a bad accident in a field where there was a woman driver competing, but after seeing a good many spills, with half the field down, and half the drivers bruised up terribly, I have always felt very thankful that there were no ladies in the wreck. I see no objection, and, in fact would enjoy much seeing a special event against time with a lady driver taking the leading role, particularly if she be a capable reins woman, and there are many of them, with only two horses on the track, the principal and the prompter; but in a big field of horses where men get excited and say and do things they would not think of doing in the presence of a lady, it make an entirely different situation. I felt certain that the 'powers that be' would pass a rule, or amend one of the old ones, during the past winter of rule tinkering, that would prevent woman drives taking part in regular races, but it seems to have been neglected."Oh how times have changed.Had Mr Moore penned such words today, he would most likely be without a job - but at that time in history his article gives further credence to just how difficult it was for women to break through. As written earlier, despite the efforts of the likes of Bella Button and Ethel Abbott harness racing was a little slow on the uptake and it was more than 70 years later before equality between male and female drivers was finalised. On the 20th November 1971 the first penalty bearing race for women who raced on special one day licences was held. Dubbed the Hip Hi Stakes and run for $550 at Addington the event was won by Lyn Smith, driving Derryhill. Other prominent names in the race included Barbara May, Noeline Ferguson, Denise Nyhan, Elizabeth McGrath, Carol Deuart, Una Anso, Allison Murfitt, Vi Mercep and Robyn Negus.It took another eight years following that race for some serious change to take place and in 1979 the waters were finally broken when three women, Lorraine Grant, Dorothy Cutts and Anne Cooney, were granted licences by the NZ Trotting Conference to compete against the men. Cutts was granted a full professional driver's licence while Watson was given an amateur licence and Cooney, a probationary licence. Interestingly the press release at the time in the NZ Trotting Calendar closed with the statement that the criteria laid down by the Conference for the granting of licences to women is exactly the same as that which applies to men. Mrs Cutts went on to win a non-TAB race at Matamata a few weeks later on Kenworthy while Mrs Watson was the first woman to drive a winner when she piloted Hydro Bird at a complete TAB tote meeting in March of 1979. To say that there were others waiting in the wings for their chance to join in on the action might be an understatement as come the end of 1979, there were 1,600 licence holders and more than 50 of them were female. The arrival of a female presence in the sulky in full blown races created a media frenzy at the time. Lorraine Watson, or Grant as she was latterly known, was quoted following her first drive as a fully licenced driver at Methven as saying the most nerve wracking part of the day was immediately after the race when amid the flurry of well-wishers and friends there the inevitable television and radio interviews. "That was worse than the race. I suppose I was a bit shy and worried about what I was going to say. Thank goodness, it only happens once." Watsons presence on the track was also well received by most of her male counterparts and she said many had wished her well. "Of course there will always be those against women drivers, but I was surprised by a lot of the others. Driving is all in the hands and feet, sex makes no difference." Watson of course went on to make history and become the first female driver to compete in the New Zealand Trotting Cup when she drove her own horse, the standout chestnut, Rainbow Patch in Il Vicolo's 1995 edition of the great race. Since that history making day, there have only been eight other occasions where a female has competed in the Cup - showing just how significant Lorraine Grant's, as she was then known, achievement was. Jo Herbert drove in it three times in 1998 (There's A Franco 4th), 2000 (Chloe Hanover 8th) and 2001 (Annie's Boy 12th) but it wasn't to be until Natalie Rasmussen arrived on our shores that the prominence of a female reinswoman in the Cup would become an every year occurrence. Rasmussen drove Vi Et Animo to finish 10th in 2011, then Sushi Sushi into 3rd in 2011 and was joined in that race by Kate Gath who finished 9th with Caribbean Blaster. Gath returned with Lauren Panella in 2013 and finished 5th with Caribbean Blaster while Panellawas 15th with Suave Stuey Lombo.Rasmussen was the sole female representative in 2014 finishing 9th with Hands Christian before both she and Kerryn Manning flew the flag in 2015. Rasmussen was 5th with Messini and Manning of course broke the hoo doo and became the first female to win the race with Arden Rooney. The funny thing about history though is that its sole purpose is, put simply, to be made. It's something people strive for. They yearn to be history making. And then when it's achieved it's on to the next mission, working full circle once more. The issue often with it though is that once achieved, history can sometimes be easily forgotten. Manning doesn't have to worry about that. A history making female reinswoman since the day she first put her feet into the stays of a sulky - the Great Western native threw her into harness racing immortality. What Manning achieved, and less importantly to us, what Michelle Payne achieved at Flemington a week earlier - will forever change the face of horse racing. No longer are there those lingering doubts of whether or not females can be regarded in the same breathe as some of our leading male drivers - it's all, once and for all, equal terms and open slather with wishes that either the best man, or woman, win. It sounds a little archaic to speak of sexism in horse racing considering that a large proportion of success in both codes has fallen the way of females, whether they be jockeys, drivers or trainers. But the truth of the matter is that in some circles it still exists - even to this day with one hardy soul daring enough to suggest to me prior to the Cup that Manning's best chance to win the Cup was to let one of the "boys" do the driving as the Cup isn't a race for a female to win. Negatively intended or not. That one small sentence still hammered home the viewpoint of some. And only further underlined the significance of what Manning achieved.Not all that long ago it was uncommon to see female drivers out competing on the big stage. Nowdays, here in New Zealand, surnames like Rasmussen, Chilcott, Donnelly, Barclay, Tomlinson, Neal and more recently Ottley, Neilson and Butt have become more and more prominent. In Australia it's more prevalent. Manning leaves the charge, but is ably chased by the likes of Panella, Quinlan, Weidemann, Gath, Turnbull, Miles and Seijka. All totalled here in New Zealand we have 52 licenced female drivers. That number isn't all that dissimilar to what it was back in 1979 but the future is looking bright with a large proportion of those coming through Cadets and Kidz Kartz, being females. And although nowdays it is considered normality there was a time, not that long ago as mentioned above , when the thought of a female out on the track competing against her male counterparts in the sulky seemed an impossible dream. Thankfully we are past that now and some of the best in the business are of the female variety - as Manning showed on the second Tuesday in November and as the likes of Rasmussen shows us week in and week out. So perhaps it's time to change the old saying, cometh the hour, cometh the man. Surely in this day and age , cometh the hour, cometh the man...or woman seems more appropriate?