The Most Influential Female Jockeys in Grand National History
Horseracing is one of the most storied and popular sports in the world. Alongside tennis and golf matches, horse races can be found in most countries around the world. Event types tend to depend on culture, ranging from dressage to flat racing to steeplechasing.
And, much like both tennis and golf, horse racing has some of the fiercest female competitors in the world. Though the WTA (tennis) and WPGA (golf) are separate leagues for women, horseracing doesn’t have such stringent rules related to the gender of jockeys.
In fact, as of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, major horseracing events in the UK have been open to female jockeys. This includes the Grand National race at Aintree, which is one of the most popular racing events in history, regularly attracting thousands of spectators and even more wagers from punters who think they can name the next dark horse champion.
Despite the Grand National’s long history of including female jockeys, the first champion wasn’t crowned until earlier this year in 2021. Rachael Blackmore (riding Minella Times) now joins the ranks of the all-time greats, including Julie Krone, Rosie Napravnik, Chantal Sutherland, and Michelle Payne.
But Blackmore isn’t the first to make a meaningful contribution to the Grand National—nor will she be the last. In honor of this year’s very first female champion, here are five other Grand National jockeys worth celebrating.
Charlotte Brew (1977)
Only two years after the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 broke the mold for women athletes, Charlotte Brew entered the 1977 Grand National riding Barony Fort. She was the only female competitor that year—and the next, too.
She and Barony Fort were eligible to enter based on their performance in the previous year’s Foxhunters’ Chase at Aintree. Unfortunately for Brew, Barony Fort refused to jump at the 27th fence and finish the race. Regardless, it was a watershed moment for female jockeys the world over.
Venetia Williams (1988)
Venetia Williams entered the 1988 Grand National riding Marcolo. After a nasty fall, Williams and Marcolo didn’t complete the race. However, this was just the beginning of a long tale for Williams in the realm of equestrianism.
Shortly after racing in the Grand National, Williams broke her neck while riding. Though this ended her career as a jockey, she’s had an illustrious career as a trainer. She wasn’t able to win the Grand National as a female jockey, but in 2009, she was credited as the trainer of Grand National champion Mon Mome, making her the second female trainer to earn the accolade.
Katie Walsh (2012)
Like future champion Rachael Blackmore, Katie Walsh is an Irish jockey. She entered the 2012 Grand National riding Seabass. Her father, Ted Walsh, trained the horse, which helped the jockey garner extra attention from the media leading up to the race. Walsh and Seabass didn’t disappoint—she placed third, the highest placement of any female jockey at the time.
It was only the beginning for Walsh. Following her performance, the Grand National Festival offered her a contract for work as a racing ambassador, which she did until 2017. The next year, in 2018, Walsh became the third female jockey to win at the Irish Grand National, riding Thunder And Roses.
Bryony Frost (2018)
Viewers of this year’s race may recognize Bryony Frost, who was unseated while riding Yala Enki. Back in 2018, she rode Milansbar to place fifth in the Grand National, hoping to repeat her father’s first-place finish from back in 1989. The fifth-place finish in 2018 helped her earn international attention, as she went on to record 75 wins by that November.
Though Frost didn’t place in the top three in 2018 or earlier this year in 2021, she did become the first female jockey to win a Grade One race at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. Today, many racing fans recognize her as the brand ambassador for the website horseracing.co.uk, which is popular for equestrians around the world.
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