The Grand National, as the most popular horse race in the world, is still one of the most important days on the horse racing calendar. According to Betway, only 17 female riders have had the opportunity to ride over the famed Aintree fences since the event’s inception in 1839. It is widely accepted that women cannot compete with males in direct athletic competition, and horse racing, a historically male-dominated sport, is no exception, but nothing could be further from the reality in today’s horse racing world.
Vanessa Cashmore of the University of Liverpool conducted a recent analysis that disclosed several main findings:
- Female participation was reported to be at an all-time low. Throughout the last 14 years, women have accounted for just 5.2 per cent of all rides, having owned 24 per cent of jockey licences (which include professionals and amateurs) and accounting for half of all stable personnel.
- The vast proportion of women jockeys are amateurs.
- The flat attracts a higher proportion of female riders (6.5 per cent share of rides on the flat against a 2.9 per cent share of NH rides).
- Women are disproportionately underrepresented at the sport’s highest levels.
Sadly, considering the study’s findings that female jockeys are just about as capable as men, some coaches continue to decline to use female riders on their horses. Surprisingly, women hold just 11.3 per cent of professional jockey licensing. However, with women’s popularity in the sport growing, we take a look at the best female horse racing jockeys from the past.
- HOLLIE DOYLE
Hollie Doyle is revising history and reshaping the racing industry. She is the very first female racer to ride five consecutive winners on the same card, and she ended up breaking her record for the number of British winners rode in a calendar year (117). Big race victories all over the world followed, and the list of successes did not end there. Doyle finished third in BBC Sports Personality of The Year 2020 after receiving global attention for her abilities. She is a shining star for British racing, and she has a long career ahead of her.
- RACHAEL BLACKMORE
Rachael Blackmore, an Irish jockey, has come on leaps and bounds after racing her first winner in February 2011. She has proven herself as one of the best in the Irish weighing room, forming an especially lethal alliance in recent times with Henry de Broomhead. The pair teamed up for Blackmore’s first Cheltenham success in 2019 when A Plus Tard won the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, and they backed it up a couple of days later when Minella Indo won the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Her first Grade One victory came on Easter Sunday, 2019, aboard the De Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle, and she finished the season with 90 wins. With that number, she finished second in the Irish jockeys’ championship. Honeysuckle, who defeated hot favourite Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle, became her third Cheltenham winner in 2020. It’s reasonable to assume that we’ll see a lot more of Blackmore in the winners’ arena at Prestbury Park in the near future.
- HAYLEY TURNER
Hayley Turner is widely regarded as the very first female racer to have maintained a day-in, day-out prosperous career as a top-level jockey. During a year in which she participated in over 900 races, she has become the first woman to race 100 Flat wins in a single year. Her big victories in 2011 included the July Cup and the Nunthorpe Stakes. She stepped down from the saddle at the end of 2015 to pursue a career in entertainment with ITV Racing. She did, however, come out of retirement in 2018 and became a member of the champion team in the Shergar Cup at Ascot. In 2019, she has become the first racer in 32 years to win at Royal Ascot alongside Thanks Be.
- BRYONY FROST
The 2019 Jump Jockey of the Year has had a meteoric rise to prominence and has established himself as among the most respected jockeys in the British weighing room. Bryony Frost’s most famous and prominent performance came at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival when she won the Ryanair Chase aboard Frodo. It occurred after the 25-year-old suffered a devastating injury in 2018, and her magnificent win on the Paul Nicholls-trained horse made her just the second female to win a Grade One National Hunt race.
Even after taking account for all of the above women’s accomplishments, current figures indicate that female participants continue to lag behind their male peers in respect of opportunities. Despite accounting for more than half of new entries into existing racing institutions, women accounted for just 1% of competitors in Group One races in 2019. We expect to see more women jockeys come forward and be competitive in the coming years, given their abilities and talent.