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 Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, the sporting world has made few moves to bring women and men together to compete alongside each other in the same disciplines.
Horse racing bucks the trend somewhat. As far back as 1977, jockey Charlotte Brew made history as the first ever female rider to compete in the Grand National. Almost 40 years later we are still awaiting a first female winner of the Aintree showpiece. But with more female jockeys on the scene than ever before, a first victory is surely not far away.
Bryony Frost is one of those who will be gunning for success in the 2018 renewal. The daughter of the Grand National winner Jimmy Frost, Bryony has enjoyed a breakthrough season as a professional. She rode a first Grade 1 winner aboard Black Corton in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase in December and could take a ride at Aintree for Paul Nicholls.
Lizzie Kelly may also pick up a ride. The Briton has tasted Grade 1 success with Tea For Two and also rode Coo Star Sivola to success in the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. Bridget Andrews and Harriet Tucker also tasted victory at the 2018 Festival and could now pick up rides at the Grand National.
Here we take a look at the female jockeys that have plied their trade in the Grand National from 1977 to the present day.
Brew entered the race aboard 200/1 shot Barony Fort in 1977. The pair made it as far as the fourth last fence before a refusal took the duo out of the race. Red Rum would go on to win the contest for legendary trainer Ginger McCain. Brew had another go in 1982 on Martin stown, but was unseated once again
1982 proved a landmark year as Geraldine Rees became the first female jockey to complete the Grand National course. Rees rode Cheers to an eighth place finish at Aintree before returning the following year on 500/1 shot Midday Welcome. The pair lived up to their lengthy odds by failing to make it past the first fence.
Venetia Williams, Penny Ffitch Heyes and Gee Armytage:
1988 saw the highest number of female entrants to a Grand National ever, with three ladies taking up rides for the renewal. The trio, aboard Hettinger, Marcolo and Gee-A, all failed to finish the course. Armytage, in particular, can consider herself extremely unlucky having been forced to call it a day at the 26th fence after pulling a back muscle. She had won two races at the Cheltenham Festival the previous year. 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 26th fence.
Irish jockey Nina Carberry holds the record for Grand National attempts by a female jockey. The 33-year-old has participated in the event six times, coming closest with Character Building in 2010, who finished seventh. She finished ninth on Forest Gunner in 2006, 15th on Character Building in 2011 and 16th on First Lieutenant in 2015.
She has been unseated twice aboard Organised confusion (2012) and Sir Des Champs (2016). However, Carberry did win the Irish Grand National in 2011 and has also tasted success at the Cheltenham Festival on numerous occasions. She also won at Aintree in 2015 aboard On The Fringe in the Fox Hunters’ Chase.
Sister of double-Grand National winner Ruby Walsh, Katie holds the record for the highest place finish by a female competitor in the race. In 2012 she rode Seabass and was just seven furlongs off taking home the first ever female victory, finishing in third. Walsh rode Seabass again the following year but could only manage 13th place. Other finished include 13th with Vesper Bell in 2014, UR aboard Ballycasey in 2016 and 19th with Wonderful Charm in 2017.
A female jockey has yet to win the Grand National. But with more promising young stars emerging from the world of racing, a first female win in one of the world’s most famous races is surely just around the corner.