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Despite the number of women working behind the scenes in the racing industry as grooms, admin and hospitality, the spotlight roles of jockey and trainer are still dominated by men. The leading trainers and jockeys tend to be men. The top races are almost exclusively won by men with very few women even getting to ride in these races. But things are starting to change as strong female jockeys turn the tables on the men.
Early Female Jockeys
Woman were banned from racing in the UK and Ireland under the Jockey Club rules until 1972. This ban was only lifted after a series of arguments and the new rules only allowed women to ride in certain races. There was even talk about whether female jockeys should be called jockeys or if a new term Jockets should be used instead. It was several years later until a woman was allowed to race over fences.
Since 1972, the number of female flat jockeys has increased massively with 3 women jockeys winning the champion apprentice title. While female jockeys, such as Katie Walsh, have been making appearances in major National Hunt races at Cheltenham festival and the Grand National, they had never made much of an impact and tended to ride the outsiders.
2018-2019 National Hunt Season
However, this National Hunt season we have started to see some big changes. Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore is hot on the heels of Paul Townend for the title of Champion Jump Jockey. Not only is this the closest a female has ever gotten to winning this title, but she has a very good chance to taking it from the current leader.
Not only do we have the chance to see the first female Champion Jump Jockey, but the female jockeys were on top form at Cheltenham festival last week. Bryony Frost became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 race at the meeting on Frodon. In total there were 4 winning female jockeys at Cheltenham this year. Rachael Blackmore had 2 wins with A Plus Tard and Minella Indo. And Lizzie Kelly had a win on Siruh Du Lac.
The future of jockeys
It was lovely to see the amount of support there is for women jockeys in the industry today. I followed most of the action on ITV racing and they were incredibly positive about these changes and said how fantastic their results are for the sport. This combined with the new documentary Jump Girls shows how this should continue to change. But the take away message for this jump season seems to be there isn’t female and male jockeys, just jockeys.