Horse racing is one of a still very limited number of sports where men and women are able to compete against each other on a level playing field.
Since the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, the sporting world in general has made few moves to bring women into the men’s arena, with most sports having separate male and female competitions. However, in 1977 jockey Charlotte Brew made history as the first ever female rider in the Grand National.
Almost forty years later we are still awaiting a female winner, but the ladies are pushing harder and harder, and it may not be very long before one achieves victory at Aintree. Here we take a look at female jockey Grand National participation from 1977 to the present day.
- Charlotte Brew. The first ever female jockey to enter the race, Charlotte Brew on 200/1 shot Barony Fort in 1977 made it as far as the third to last fence before a refusal took her out of the race, which was won by the legendary Red Rum.
She returned in 1982 on Martinstown but was unseated. 1982 was the first year there was more than one female jockey entered.
- Geraldine Rees. In 1982 Geraldine Rees set her own record as the first female jockey to complete the Grand National, finishing 8th on Cheers. Rees returned the following year on Midday Welcome, a 500/1 shot who lived up to their odds by falling at the first fence.
- Venetia Williams, Penny Ffitch Heyes and Gee Armytage. 1988 saw the highest number of female entrants at the Grand National ever, with three women riding. Unfortunately, not one managed to finish the race, despite previous good form.
Gee Armytage (sister of Marcus Armytage, who went on two years later to record the fastest Grand National winning time on Mr Frisk), had won two races at the Cheltenham Festival the previous year. However, injury in the form of a pulled back muscle led her to pull up at the 26thfence.
- Nina Carberry. One of the most persistent and resilient female Grand National entrants, Nina Carberry has ridden in the iconic race five times.
Carberry finished 9th on Forest Gunner in 2006, 7th and 15th on Character Building in 2010 and 2011 respectively, was unseated from Organisedconfusion in 2012 and finished 16th on First Lieutenant in 2015.
She won the Irish Grand National on Organisedconfusion in 2011 and has seen victory at the Cheltenham Festival on numerous occasions. Her one win at Aintree came in 2015 when she rode On The Fringe in the Foxhunter’s Chase.
- Katie Walsh. Sister of twice-winner of the Grand National Ruby Walsh, Katie holds the record for the highest place female finish in the race. In 2012 she rode Seabass and was just twelve metres off taking home the first ever female victory, finishing in third. In her following two appearances in 2013 (Seabass) and 2014 (Vesper Bell) she came in 13th both times.
The women may not yet have made too much of a splash at the Grand National but they are by no means out of the race. With a number of female jockeys making names for themselves on the course, that historic first win could be just around the corner.