Horse racing is not the first sport that comes to mind when you think about promoting diversity. With Premier League footballers taking a stand against racism and the Olympics introducing mixed events, there are more prominent examples of pushing for equality in sports. Yet, horse racing has quietly gone about its business, championing women in the sport, and celebrating their recent successes.
? History in the Grand National@rachaelblackmor becomes the first female rider to win the £750,000 Randox Grand National aboard Minella Times @AintreeRaces
A 1-2 for @HenrydeBromhead too ? pic.twitter.com/RRIsIdKFjA
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) April 10, 2021
A Platform for Equality
The truth is, horse racing is better positioned than most sports to promote gender equality. Fans studying the horse racing odds have been used to seeing male and female jockey’s names side-by-side for years. Yes, the horse racing industry could have done more in the past to bridge the gender gap and support female jockeys. For example, when Charlotte Brew became the first woman to ride in the Grand National in 1977, she faced a lot of criticism and prejudice. But at least there were no rules to prevent her racing at all.
For many years, female jockeys struggled to make an impact in the sport. As little as a decade ago, most top stables were mainly staffed by women with a passion for horses. Yet very few of these workers progressed to become jockeys, even though many would have loved the opportunity. In 2011, only two of the top 50 flat jockeys were women and only one (Alex Greaves) had entered the Derby (on a 500-1 shot). For many of the sport’s decision-makers, elite racing was still a sport where only men could excel.
Female jockeys were also in short supply over the jumps with Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh the only women contending for major National Hunt races (albeit with amateur status) in 2011. But over the next 10 years, everything changed and the sport is now embracing its mixed-sex dynamic.
A Decade of Change
Racing is now a modern industry where top talent can progress, regardless of gender. The top female jockeys regularly ride the favourites in elite events such as the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National.
The New Pioneers
Blackmore was praised as the top jockey in the sport in 2021 by 20-time champion jockey AP McCoy. The Irish rider landed six winners at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival to become the first woman to claim the top jockey prize. She also became the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle, aboard Honeysuckle (a feat she repeated in 2022). A month later, Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National, leading Minella Times home by 6-and-a-half lengths.
Hollie Doyle’s exploits on the flat in 2020 resulted in third place in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award and was named Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year. She broke the record for the most winners by a female jockey in a year in 2019 and has been named top female jockey on three occasions. She also holds the record for the highest result for a woman, finishing fourth in the 2020 Flat Jockeys’ Championship.
1️⃣ week ago ✈️
An impressive performance from @HollieDoyle1 and OUTBOX in Qatar saw them claim HH The Amir Trophy @Q_REC ? #AmirSword pic.twitter.com/M8w0477UGj
— World Horse Racing (@WHR) February 26, 2022
Following in the footsteps of the likes of Nina Carberry and Melbourne Cup-winner Michelle Payne, these jockeys have blown the myth that female jockeys cannot compete on a level playing field with the men in the toughest races of all. And they have changed the face of racing forever.