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Saturday, 18 January 2020

Female Jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival


Caroline Beasley, aboard Eliogarty, was the very first female jockey to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, on Eliogarty in 1983. Although this win in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase signalled what was possible for female jockeys it wasn't exactly a sign of the flood gates opening.  In fact winners ridden by female jockeys in the following years were very much few and far between. Outlier events.


Katie Rimell, on Three Counties, in 1989, Polly Curling, on Fantus, in 1995, Fiona Needham, on Last Option, in 2002 and Rilley Goschen, on Earthmover, in 2004, all followed in the footsteps of Caroline Beasley by winning the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase. After that time came a barren period though, propped up only by the successes two skilled female jockeys, Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh.  
Nina Carberry is the definition of 'start as you mean to go on' with an impressive first Cheltenham Festival win on Dabiroun in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle in 2005. The six winners that followed let her to becoming the most successful  female jockey in the history of the Festival. Those six winners were all trained by Enda Bolger in Co. Limerick and owned by John McManus. They included a record four wins in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase and back-to-back victories in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase. Katie Walsh, on the other hand, won the County Hurdle on Thousand Stars, the National Hunt Chase on Poker De Sivola and the Weatherbys Champion Bumper on Relegate, for a total of three Festival winners.


Bryony Frost, now conditional jockey to former Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, opened her account at the Festival, while still an amateur, when steering Pacha Du Polder to victory in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase in 2017 and another amateur, Harriet Tucker, repeated the feat on the same horse a year later. Katie Walsh and Harriet Tucker were also joined, in 2018, by the first two professional female jockeys to ride winners at the Cheltenham Festival, Lizzie Kelly on Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase and Bridget Andrews on Mohaayed in the County Hurdle.

Four female jockey winners in a year was a new record for the Cheltenham Festival, and it was pleasing to see a renewed enthusiasm and momentum building. Unlike with the Grand National, historically female jockeys have struggled at the Cheltenham Festival and it looks like a corner may well have finally been turned in that department.