In a sport dominated by males, female jockeys are finally hitting the headlines in racing for all the right reasons.
Equestrian sport is the only Olympic discipline in which men and women compete on equal footing. In dressage, Charlotte Dujardin was recently ousted from the number one spot by Kristina Bröring-Sprehe, while in showjumping US rider Beezie Madden sits at number four in the world and Luciana Diniz heads the Global Champions Tour rankings, ahead of world number one Scott Brash.
Yet when it comes to racing, women scarcely have a look in.
However, recently female jockeys have been triumphing more often, could this
Lizzie Kelly made history in December, becoming the first female jockey to win a Grade One over jumps, on Tea For Two.
She was thrust into the spotlight once again on “Super Saturday” earlier this month (13 February) at Newbury when she won the valuable Betfair Hurdle aboard Agrapart.
Both horses were trained by her stepfather Nick Williams.
H&H columnist Richard Johnson said: “A woman winning a Grade One was always going to happen, but it has taken a while as there are fewer women than men riding — and it’s hard for anyone to win a Grade One. The horse was very good and she gave it a great ride. It just shows if you have the opportunities it can be done.”
Securing the rides
But are there the opportunities?
Lizzie has only ridden winners for three different trainers — including her stepfather.
Last year Michelle Payne became the first woman to win Australia’s Melbourne Cup. Michelle was only the fourth female to ride in the race in its 155-year history.
“It’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we [women] are not strong enough and all the rest of it, but it’s not all about strength,” she said, addressing the critics.
“There is so much more involved, getting the horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you. Females don’t get enough of a go.”
Lizzie Kelly told H&H she can’t see the situation changing any time soon, though.
“My wins have been good as they have raised the profile of women jockeys, but whether this results in girls getting more rides, we’ll have to see,” she said.
“Racing as sport has become even more competitive. I’ve been lucky to have support from a couple of trainers and my parents, but it’s very hard to get into it. I don’t feel I’ve gained extra rides from having a big winner.
“I hope that what will happen is that more girls will try and get into the sport. It’s all about making contacts and believing you can do it. Eventing is one of the scariest sports and I have no idea why it’s ok for more females to be in a sport like that than in racing.
“Racing has always been the same in that there are only really ever two or three females in the public eye. I imagine it will continue in that vein — I can’t see there will be a crazy influx of lady jockeys soon.”
There are several prominent female riders — Nina Carberry is frequently in the winners’ enclosure at Cheltenham for her victories in the cross-country races, while Katie Walsh became only the third woman to win the Irish Grand National when she partnered Thunder And Roses last year.
While on the Flat, before retiring last year, Hayley Turner secured 100 wins in 2008, the first lady rider to achieve the century, and in 2011 became the only female jockey to ride two Group Ones in
the same season.
But they remain the exception. Last year an idea was mooted by AP McCoy that female jockeys should receive a weight allowance.
Jockey Rachael Green, who has won more than 75 races under Rules, is unsure about this idea.
“Undoubtedly, when it comes to strength, females are not as strong as men, but there is so much more to being a successful jockey than sheer muscle power,” she said.
“So how do you get the leg up on the right horse? There are so many factors that decide the outcome of a horse race and whatever sex you are it is very hard to win.
“Event riders don’t carry different weights, and eventing, like horse racing, comes with many variables.
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There is always going to be one jockey in a finish who out rides the others, whether they are male or female.
“Good female jockeys will gain the rides anyway and I think it would be unfair to other jockeys if they were to receive an extra allowance.”
Ref: H&H 23/02/2016