Why female jockeys should be ‘just jockeys’

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Most sports are known to favour men over women athletes. From football to basketball, women’s sports have largely been marginalised. However, it looks like the tide is finally turning and nowhere is this more evident in the world of horse racing. 

Recently there have been numerous big name female jockeys who have proven that women can race equally, or even better, than their male counterparts. While this is impressive, it seems that many female jockeys still face a large number of challenges in order to enjoy a level playing field in the horse racing world. This has led many women in the industry to advocate that the term ‘female jockeys’ needs to be dropped.

It has been over 50 years now since Diane Crump became one of the first women jockeys in 1969, and it’s clear that more work needs to be done to ensure that women are able to perform to the best of their abilities in the horse racing world. 

After all, it was in 1972 when Meriel Tufnell became the first female rider in the UK to win an official horse race and this should have opened the doors to many more women jockeys. But according to US reports, it is thought that only 12% of working jockeys are female and only 2% of jockeys at Triple Crown races have been women. 

This is all the more surprising as a recent study by the Pittsburgh State University revealed that there was no advantage between either gender in over 120,000 thoroughbred horse races between 2016 and 2018. As a result, any punter wishing to bet on one of the betting sites featured at horsebetting.com/ would have just as much luck backing a runner with a woman jockey as they would a male jockey.  All of which means that there must be some kind of institutional barrier that prevents many women jockeys from being able to take up horse racing at a professional level. 

Thankfully there has been the gradual emergence of several big name women jockeys in the past few years. Ever since Julie Krone won the 1993 Belmont race on Colonial Affair, there has been a much greater widespread approval of women jockeys in the sport. Nowhere is this better seen than when Rosie Napravik became the first woman to ride in all three of the US Triple Crown Races.

Such achievements have been mirrored all over the horse racing world. The sight of Michelle Payne winning the Melbourne Cup in 2015 was a defining moment for women’s Australian horse racing. Plus there have been similar success stories in New Zealand where women make up over 40% of the nations’ jockeys.

There have been significant inroads made in the British horse racing scene. Hayley Turner was a real pioneer in women’s horse racing being the first woman to ride 100 winners in a British season in 2008. This helped to open doors to many more famous female jockeys like Lizzie Kelly and Amy Ryan in the British racing industry. 

However it is the arrival of Hollie Doyle in UK racing that has shown just how far female jockeys have come in the past couple of decades. Doyle has enjoyed a spectacular 2020 with a record-breaking series of wins in the calendar year, and she also became the first women to win five races on the same card at Windsor this August. This followed on from high profile results like her first win at Royal Ascot and a dominating performance at the British Champions Day.

Such impressive results have helped Hollie Doyle get plenty of recognition for her sporting achievements. From here, Doyle has been part of many important efforts to try and get more women into the sport. Nowhere is this better seen than through the Just Jockeys campaign. This aims to draw attention away from a jockey’s gender to focus on the athlete’s individual skills. 

The Just Jockeys campaign will also help women get a career in racing beyond the role of a jockey and it seeks to broaden the overall diversity within the previously fairly limited industry. With plenty of assistance from the British Racing School, it has shown how a few determined individuals can work together to create something bigger for the wider community. It’s hoped that such efforts will inspire more from all over the world so that everybody feels included and welcome to join in the wonderful world of horse racing.

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