Last month, at the remarkable Cheltenham Festival, Bryony Frost, Lizzie Kelly and Rachel Blackmore (twice) all chalked up major victories – two of those being Grade One wins for Frost and Blackmore.
Frost became the first woman to ride a Grade One winner over jumps at The Festival, and with the Grand National around the corner, the world’s biggest steeplechase, we’re wondering whether we’ll see for the first time in the history of the Grand National a female jockey taking first place. So, in the style of Beyoncé, who’ll run the Grand National? Girls?!
In 1983 Jenny Pitman made history as she became the first female trainer to win the Grand National with Corbiere, and with the high calibre of female jockeys at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, it’s safe to say that horse racing is not just a man’s world.
Harry Redknapp, our new brand ambassador at BetVictor, witnessed the action at Cheltenham and he told me something important is happening within British and Irish racing.
“Cheltenham really was quite something and puts down a marker to all the male jockeys out there,” said Redknapp. “I was watching on as Bryony picked up her win and it was as good a ride as I’ve ever seen. Female jockeys are really stepping up their game,” added Redknapp.
Horse racing is one of the few sports where men and women are actually able to compete directly against one another, and it would be great to see a female jockey win the big one at Aintree this year!
If you look at the 14-year study released by the University of Liverpool last year, when the quality of horse is factored in, there is little disparity between the performances of male and female riders.
Female jockeys, though, have faced an uphill battle, not even being allowed to take part in the sport until the late 1960s. As of last year’s University of Liverpool report, only 11.3% of professional jockey licences were held by women and only 5.2% of the available 1.25 million individual rides during the study were taken by female jockeys.
Tallulah Lewis, Deputy Chair Women in Racing, said: “As we celebrate the recent high-profile victories of Rachael Blackmore, Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly at the Cheltenham Festival, it is encouraging to see the positive commentary about female jockeys.”
“Riding a race horse requires a high level of skill and strength, which are abilities that can be developed by both sexes, with opportunity being the crucial final component. If women have the same opportunities as their male counter parts they can compete successfully as jockeys, just as they can in any other sphere in racing,” added Lewis.
Today, the achievements of Bryony Frost, Lizzie Kelly and Co. mean a sport which has the largest proportion of female fans of any major British sport, at approximately 40% of racegoers, is slowly starting to get the equality at the top that it deserves.
Turn on the TV and Rachael Blackmore is starring in ITV’s documentary ‘Jump Girls’, about the women at the top of National Hunt racing in Ireland; search online and you’ll find Bryony Frost has her own regular BBC Sport column.
Talking of Blackmore, she even sits second in the race to be crowned this year’s Irish champion jockey – aiming to be the first ever female winner.
Sadly Frost, who finished fifth in the 2018 Grand National, has been ruled out of Saturday’s flagship event with injury – but Kelly and Blackmore, who are riding Tea For Two and Valseur Lido respectively, could be going two better than Katie Walsh’s third-place finish in 2012 – the closest a female jockey has come to winning the Grand National.
Whether or not they do, we’re expecting to see further strides taken at Aintree on Saturday – and 2019 is already proving to be the year of the female jockey.
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Both female jockeys to complete the course
Both female jockeys to be placed in 1st 6