Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Women jump jockeys make Cheltenham Festival breakthrough

Posted on 15 March 2019 by Edd Oliver

Bryony Frost’s win yesterday at the Cheltenham Festival has brought women jockeys into the spotlight, so who are the other leading women jump jockeys at the moment, who else has made an impact in the past and who are the up and comers to look out for in the future?

Frost may have stolen the headlines aboard Frodon as the first female jockey to win a top-level Grade One Cheltenham Festival winner, but what more casual fans of jump racing may not know is that two other women had already ridden winners at Cheltenham this week, an unprecedented level of success for women jump jockeys.

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Bryony Frost returns to the winner’s enclosure after her win at Cheltenham yesterday

Lizzie Kelly rode Sirah Du Lac to victory yesterday after Frost’s win, leading BBC horse racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght to describe yesterday as potentially ‘one of the most significant days in the recent history of the Festival’.

‘The fact is, racing has a lot to be confident and on the front foot about, particularly in terms of female participants who weren’t even allowed to be part of it until the late 1960s,’ he added.

On Tuesday Rachael Blackmore, who is bidding this season to become the first female champion jockey in Ireland (she is currently second with 84 winners), won on A Plus Tard.

Blackmore is unusual in that she has no family connection to racing, unlike many other female jockeys such as former leading lights, the recently retired Katie Walsh (daughter of Ted and sister of Ruby) and Nina Carberry (daughter of Tommy and sister of Paul).

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Katie Walsh enjoyed a successful career over fences

Indeed nepotism has traditionally been the initial route into racing for many female jockeys in the past, making Blackmore’s success even more notable. However once they have got their initial foot in the iron jockeys such as Walsh and Carberry have then shown themselves more than capable of competing with the men.

While female jockeys face obvious disadvantages such as strength when compared to men, they also tend to have smaller, thinner bones, making them more likely to suffer bone breaks than male jockeys when suffering falls.

This could explain why other women jockeys such as Hayley Turner have favoured racing on the flat rather than over fences.  Her success (with 780 career wins) saw a significant increase in the number of female apprentice jockeys riding on the flat in the UK in the 2010s.

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Geraldine Rees became the first woman jockey to finish the Grand National, in 1982

It took until 1977 for the first female jockey to ride in the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National, and until 1982 for the first woman to complete the course, when Geraldine Rees finished in eighth place.  Gee Armytage ploughed a lonely furrow for women jockeys in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and it took until Katie Walsh’s third place finish in 2012 for a woman to achieve the first top three finish in the race.

So which other women jump jockeys should we keep an eye on?  Leading amateur jockey Gina Andrews, who has ridden 22 winners this season in Point-to-Points, and rides in this afternoon’s Foxhunters’ race at Cheltenham is likely to be another woman jockey in the spotlight in the near future, and Harriet Tucker, who is also riding in the Foxhunters’, is another jockey tipped for the top.

After the success of Frost, Blackmore and Kelly this week, the perception of horse racing as ‘pale, male and stale’ may finally be coming to an end.

Featured image courtesy of Wikicommons.