Has horseracing provided women with a level playing field?

One hundred years ago, a feminist’s attempt to promote the cause of votes for women resulted in her death at the Epsom Derby. The suffragette Emily Davison, who was fatally injured after throwing herself under the King’s horse Anmer, was one of many whose efforts led to women receiving the vote within 10 years of her death.

No single event in the years of campaigning drew as much attention or sympathy. Horse racing was the stage for a women’s rights breakthrough, but generations later, has the sport provided women with a level playing field?

Well, not yet. However, in 2015 there were some major milestones of women’s achievements on racecourses around the globe. Here are the highlights:

Grade 1 history for Kelly
On Boxing Day 22-year-old Lizzie Kelly became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 race over jumps in the United Kingdom. Kelly was riding Tea For Two at Kempton Park in the Kauto Star Novice Chase for trainer and step-father Nick Williams. Tea for Two is owned by her mother Jane Williams.

Sammy Jo Bell by Louise Pollard Ifikaar
Sammy Jo Bell by Louise Pollard Ifikaa

Silver Saddle for Sammy Jo
Apprentice jockey Sammy Jo Bell was the heroine at this year’s Shergar Cup held at Ascot in August. Following a late call up for the ‘Girls’ team, Bell won two of the six races – in the process outriding four times winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Olivier Peslier, as well as Damien Oliver, the Melbourne Cup-winning jockey.

Along with team-mates Hayley Turner, the first female jockey to win a Group 1 race outright in the UK, and Canadian Emma Jayne-Wilson, the girls landed the Shergar Cup, beating leading male jockeys representing Great Britain and Ireland, Europe and the Rest of the World. Bell was awarded the coveted silver saddle trophy as the fixture’s top jockey.

In October, the jockey Sammy Jo cites as her role model, Hayley Turner, announced her retirement from race riding. Britain’s most successful female Flat jockey became the first women to ride 100 winners in a year and accumulated 750 wins during her career, including two Group 1 races, the July Cup at Newmarket and York’s Nunthorpe Stakes. She was also joint champion apprentice jockey in 2005.

Michelle Payne gives a ribald response to critics
Michelle Payne became another history-maker on the 3 November, when victorious in the race that stops a nation – the Melbourne Cup in Australia. She became the first woman to win the race in its 155-year history.

Riding Prince of Penzance, the pair were sent off at odds of 100-1. However, following a strong move down the home straight they held off the fast-finishing Max Dynamite, ridden by Frankie Dettori, by three-quarters of a length.

Moments later, Payne made some controversial remarks much quoted in the press, in which she criticised the racing world for being chauvinistic. The Australian had a two-word response to the ‘chauvinists’ who doubt the ability of women to compete alongside men: “Get stuffed.”

Sophie Doyle riding Fioretti
Sophie Doyle riding Fioretti

Doyle flies the flag stateside
Brit Sophie Doyle has been making a name for herself riding in America over the past two years. After becoming disillusioned due to lack of riding opportunities on this side of the Atlantic, Doyle made the decision to move first to California, then to Kentucky. In her second year riding in the States she won more than $1.6 million in prize money.

In 2015 she won 72 of the 747 races she rode. However, Sophie’s highlight was making her Breeders’ Cup début in the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, riding Fioretti, the mare with whom she had claimed her first graded stakes victory.

Katie Walsh at Aintree Racecourse
Katie Walsh at Aintree Racecourse

Katie Walsh and the Irish Grand National Katie Walsh, arguably the most successful woman jump jockey in England and Ireland, became the third female to land the Irish Grand National as she guided Thunder And Roses to victory at Fairyhouse in April.

It is 31 years since Ann Ferris became the first to the title aboard Bentom Boy; Nina Carberry, another highly-respected Irish jump jockey, was the second, riding Organisedconfusion to victory in 2011.


Article by Harriet Rochester

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.