The top women jockeys in the world: have your say
Horse racing has been a sport dominated by men ever since the year dot. Even before it was a sport, riding for pleasure was a luxury only afforded to men. In medieval times, women werenÔÇÖt allowed to ride horses, but it was largely due to the backward cultural norms that were prevalent at the time. Joan of Arc had to present herself as a man to win her spurs at the head of the Dauphin’s army when she relieved the siege of Orleans.
Happily, the world has become a more equitable place, as illustrated by the outpouring of affection in the UK, and worldwide, toward the late Queen, an extraordinarily successful woman head of state in a man’s world. In the small world of horseracing, things are changing too, not least because a majority of the staff who now look after the horses at home are women. Today, over 20% of jockey licenses are held by women, but the road to the top of the riding ranks remains very narrow.
A contemporary generation of trainers, having grown up in a world where equality of the genders is the accepted norm, are more readily amenable to putting up women riders. It would be an exaggeration to say that gender is no longer a factor, but the likes of Racheal Blackmore have won the argument for the fairer sex, to the extent that riders are purely assessed on their merits, and not the length of their hair.
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Beneath, we have listed what we think are some of the best female jockeys of all time.
Heading up the British list has to be Hayley Turner. Born in Nottinghamshire in 1983, Hayley Turner is widely recognized as the greatest female jockey England has ever seen. She began racing at the age of 17 and to date has ridden over 930 winners, including two Group Is in the 2011 Nunthorpe and Newmarket’s July Cup the same season.
Turner made a name for herself┬á and went on to win races across the globe. She holds the record for being the first female jockey in the history of horse racing to win 100 UK Flat races in a single year.
She has a lot of accolades to her name,┬á including being Champion Apprentice. Turner also won Channel 4ÔÇÖs Racing Personality in 2008, and her efforts have even been recognized by the British government.
Julie Krone is the reason many of the women on our list got into horse racing. She was born in Michigan in 1963 and made her debut at the age of 17 in Florida. She rode a winner at Tampa Bay Downs and launched a memorable career.
Julie Krone has won 3,704 starts throughout her 23 year career; many consider her to be the greatest female jockey to ever grace the game. She remains the only woman rider to have won a Triple Crown race in the USA, on Colonial Affair in the Belmont in 1993.
In April 1999, after a treble at Lone Star Park, near Dallas, Krone retired, and began a broadcasting career with TVG Network. But the lure of the track was too strong to keep her away and she returned to race-riding in November 2002, becoming the first woman rider to secure a Breeders’ Cup race in the Juvenile on Halfbridled in 2003. A month on, a fall at Hollywood Park led to broken ribs and torn muscle, and despite an attempt to return to the track the following February, the game was up.
Nina Carberry was born in Ireland in 1984 and belongs to a family steeped in racing. She made a name for herself after winning the Cross Country Handicap three times in three years between 2007 and 2009 at the Cheltenham Festival, adding a Fred Winter Juvenile for good measure.
Carberry holds the record for being the female rider with the most wins in the history of the Cheltenham Festival. She is also the most decorated female National hunt rider of all time. 365 Jumps winners in Ireland and the UK stand testament to her ability to get horses jumping.
In 2021, she won Dancing with the Stars, the Irish equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing.
If there’s an award for dogged Aussie persistence, then it could only be awarded to Michelle Payne, the first woman to ride the winner of the Melbourne Cup. Her career choice was already set at the age of 7, but she won on her opening ride for trainer father Paddy at Ballarat in 2000, but there was no fast-track to the big time. A fall at Sandown in March 2004 bruised her brain and made for a prolonged recovery time that would have put most ordinary people off the sport.
In 2009, she won her first Group I at Caulfield, which precipitated a call from the great Bart Cummings to ride for him in the 2009 Melbourne Cup. There was no fairytale ending however; the horse finished 9th of 16. It was a further 6 years before Prince of Penzance won her Australia’s biggest race, and afterwards, Payne pulled no punches, “…’you know what?’ she said. “It’s not all about strength, there is so much more involved, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient.” SHe held Austrailian racing to account as a chauvinistic sport.
In October 2016, she was awarded the Don Award at the┬áSport Australia Hall of Fame awards. The Don Award is “awarded to a sportsperson who, through their achievements and example over the last 12 months, is considered to have most inspired the nation”.
Unusually included, given she is not just still riding, but is still in the ascendant of her career, Racheal has already ridden over 400 winners on both sides of the Irish Sea, including 12 Festival winners, most recently capping a memorable week with Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle and A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup this past March.
In 2021, she became the first woman rider to win the Grand National, when Minella Indo broke the hoodoo at Aintree. Blackmore’s groundbreaking achievements saw her named the 2021┬áRT├ë Sports Person of the Year┬áand the┬áBBC World Sport Star of the Year making her one of the most prominent female athletes in the world.
And perhaps it is this last example that finally laid to rest the myth that women riders are not on a par with their male counterparts. In a sport where the majority of the effort is from a four-legged beast, not a two-legged one, it’s right to focus on the horse’s achievements.