Female jockeys are a part of modern horse racing. The sport has seen a number of top female jockeys shine including Katie Walsh, Lizzie Kelly, and Bryony Frost. That trio of horse jockeys and the other top female riders in the sport would never have got their starts if it hadn’t been for Meriel Tufnell. Female jockeys will make up part of the competitors at this summer’s The Derby at Epsom Downs. Punters may not be able to attend The Derby in-person but can enjoy online betting on horses when the major British horse race takes place in July.
Tufnell broke the gender barrier in horse racing in 1972 as she became Britain's first female jockey to win a horse race. The victory came on the back of Scorched Earth, a horse owned by Tufnell’s mother. The race marked both the first-ever event for Tufnell and Scorched Earth.
Since the days in which Tufnell raced, a dark age for women in a very male dominated sport, there has been a sharp increase in the number of female jockeys. Between 2015 and 2019, horse racing saw a 76% increase in female jockey wins and compared to the days of Tufnell, the gender gap in the sport is much smaller.
Walsh is the current top-name in horse racing in terms of female jockeys. The sister of famed male jockey Ruby Walsh, she has won three times at the Cheltenham Festival and famously finished third at the Grand National on the back of Seabass in 2012.
Frost has continued the path blazed by Tufnell and added to the significantly high performances of Walsh. In 2019, Frost was named Jump Jockey of the Year as she outperformed both men and women. That same year saw Frost achieve an incredible win in the Cheltenham Festival’s Ryanair Chase.
But women’s horse racing isn’t just about the well-known names of female jockeys like Walsh and Frost. Nicola Currie, 26, has tallied over 150 career race wins and in October 2019, was the first female to compete in the QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. Khadijah Mellah has made history of her own at just 19-years-old. Mellah became the first jockey to win a horse race while wearing a hijab. She won the 2019 Magnolia Cup Charity at Goodwood and has since become a celebrity for women across the United Kingdom.
Due to the success of female jockeys in recent years, Great British Racing is attempting to tear down the gender labels and barriers in the sport. For International Women’s Day 2020, the organisation launched #JustJockeys, a social media campaign to highlight the incredible achievements of women in horseracing. The campaign also aims to show that the term ‘female jockey’ is antiquated and the word ‘female’ should be dropped entirely. Regardless of gender, individuals should be known as jockeys. It is a world away from the one in which Tufnell joined nearly a half century ago.
Compared to other sports, horse racing is one that sees equality between genders. If the successes of Walsh, Frost, Currie, and Mellah continue, there is little doubt that the number of women to enter the world of horse racing will increase.