Female Jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival

Female Jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival  The first female jockey to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Caroline Beasley, on Eliogarty, in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase in 1983 and the following year Linda Sheedy rode, but failed to complete the course on, 500/1 outsider Foxbury in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Three years later, in 1987, Gee Armytage rode a double on The Ellier in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup and Gee-A in the Mildmay of Flete, but for many years afterwards winners ridden by female jockeys were few and far between.

 

It was pretty much left to Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh, both of whom have now retired, to keep the ball rolling and pave the way for the female jockeys that followed. Carberry eventually rode 6 winners at the Festival, a women’s record that stands to this day.

 

Fast forward to the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and the landscape has changed for women in racing. Taking inspiration from those who previously forged a path in racing, we saw four female jockeys claim victory during the Festival, Lizzie Kelly on Coo Star Sivola (Ultima Handicap Chase), Katie Walsh on Relegate (Champion Bumper), Bridget Andrews riding Mohaayed (County Hurdle) and Harriet Tucker on Pacha Du Polder (Foxhunter Challenge Cup). We may be reading too much into the betting odds to say that the general public still deem a female jockey winning as a flash in the pan –  the latter three horses were 25-1 and above  – but win they indeed did and this surely bodes well. It won’t have gone unnoticed by trainers and owners either, so opportunities for the best female jockeys will keep on coming.

 

The focus on females in sport has intensified further this year. For International Women’s Day, Sky Sports highlighted this fact by replacing all of the icons in their Sky Sport’s App with leading women in the corresponding sports. It was a nice touch. Will the surge in participation and excellence translate to results in this year’s Cheltenham Festival though?

 

Well, the participation factor is certainly accounted for, with the likes of Rachael Blackmore (on 83 wins this season and in the running for the Irish Jump Jockeys’ Championship), Lizzie Kelly and Bryony Frost all taking part.

 

Bryony Frost is in contention to become the first female jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Frodon. She too has previous Cheltenham Festival pedigree, winning the St James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase aboard Pacha Du Polder in 2017. Her stock has risen this year as result of her racing, positive attitude and ‘wise beyond her years’ interviews. Her talent knows no bounds, and the way in which she describes her love for racing, is almost poetic. “The rhythm and the stride when you connect: he relaxes, and the only thing in it is you and him. You just do what you need to do, feeling his breathing, feeling his stride, the whole world blocks out. To me there is no better place I can be in my life than when I’m with my horse.”

 

Devon Based Lizzie Kelly, who rides for her father Nick Williams has a multitude of chances to build on her 2018 Cheltenham Festival success. The 25 year old will be riding Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday, then on Wednesday Tea for Two in the Cross Country Chase, followed by Fox Pro in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle in back to back races. She previously won the high profile Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Tea For Two in 2015, could we be seeing a repeat here?

 

All of the elements are coming together for this to be another bumper year for female jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival.

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