The History of Female Jockeys in Horse Racing

Horse racing, and the jockeys that compete in the sport, are always thought of as men. Yet women have as much of an impact on the sport as do men. To celebrate these female jockeys, we’re delighted to present this list of the three women who went on to show that the sport wasn’t always for the men.

Lizzie Kelly

Lizzie Kelly

Bridging the span of the 20th and 21st century is the youngest jockey on our list, but possibly one who still has a bright future ahead of us. Born in 1993 in Devon, Lizzie had the advantage that her stepfather and mother were horse trainers. Having been trained to break-in horses since the age of five, and being a rider since the age of 11, nothing was going to stop Lizzie from winning big at the races. In her own words she always liked to compete against the boys. She feels the fame and recognition that one receives from beating men on the tracks, as opposed to beating another female jockey, promotes not just herself but female jockeys in general. She has suffered broken bones, chipped teeth, but none of this has stopped her from wanting to ride and show that she’s as capable as ever!

With the help of her stepfather she received a trainer license and became a conditional rider. It helped that she spent most of her days assisting her stepfather in training horses on top of working in university. She began to make headlines after coming in second place at Aubusson in the Grand Prix d’Automne in November of 2015, riding a horse she helped train named Tea for Two. Come Boxing Day that same year, Kelly and Tea for Two won the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park making Kelly the first female jockey to win a Group One race in Britain. From there, her successes continued including winning the Betfair Hurdle at Agrapat in February of 2016. In 2017 she became the second woman to ride in the Gloucestershire-based ‘Gold Cup’, hosted at Cheltenham racecourse, once again with Tea for Two.

An entire article could be dedicated to her accomplishments and aspiring career, but it’s important to remember all the women jockeys that came before young Kelly that made her career as promising as it is. Female jockeys deserve more attention as their triumphs are all-the-more sweeter knowing the opposition they had to endure. Even if they do not come in first, every time they step foot on the track it’s another win for them.

Anna Lee Aldred

Anna Lee Aldred

The first woman on our list is also the first to receive a jockey license. Aldred was born in Montrose, Colorado on April 19, 1921 to a horse trainer and breeder, one Tom Mills. She had four other siblings, two brothers and two sisters, all of whom would find their lives revolving around horses. Her brothers, George and Hank Mills, would go on to become rodeo champions while her sisters would also perform in the same rodeos.

Aldred was riding horses when she was just a young girl and even won a pony race in her hometown at the age of 6 in 1927. Six years later in 1933, the now twelve-year old Aldred was competing in both flat and relay races. She soon desired to get both the respect, and cash payouts, as professional racers and at the age of eighteen she applied for her own jockey license from the Agua Caliente Racetrack in Baja California, Mexico.

Fearing that American racetracks would turn her down, Aldred decided on the Agua Caliente Racetrack due to being both familiar to her and the likelihood they wouldn’t reject her for being a woman. To her surprise, they did attempt to refuse her a license but when she questioned them where in the rules, she wasn’t allowed to race the officials backed down and issued her a license in 1939.

In her first race at the racetrack, she rode on her own horse named Lee Torch but lost by a nose in American slang. Undeterred by this lose she would continue to ride Lee Torch in a variety of state and fair races, constantly winning. She retired from horse racing in 1945, having grown too large to be a jockey but continued to ride until 2001 when she broke her hip after a fall and was forced into a nursing home until she passed away in 2006.

While she may not have entered the big-named races, only competing in no-name local races, Aldred was a pioneer for women jockey all over the world. In 1969 Diane Crump would become the first woman to compete and race in the Kentucky Derby and while we have no record of what Aldred said or thought about this race, we’re sure she was quite pleased to see another woman picking up the mantle.

Meriel Tufnell

Meriel Tufnell

While not the first female jockey in Great Britain by any long-shot, in fact there were many who were waiting for the day the Jockey Club allowed women to become jockeys, Tufnell stands out by being the first woman in the racing history of Britain to ride a winner under Rules. Born in Winchester on December 12, 1948, she had a splendid family with her grandmother being the first woman to run a firm for estate agents while her father was a naval captain who served in World War II.

While loving horses, her early years saw her being nearly unable to ride due to having a dislocated hip and childhood asthma. Undeterred, young Tufnell pressed on and competed in gymkhanas and later showjumping. Having fallen in love with being in the spotlight, and of course riding horses, she began to train herself for riding professionally.

By, 1971 the Jockey Club had yielded to campaign pressure and opened the courses for women. Although just because women could race didn’t mean they could race with men. Tufnell’s first professional race was the Goya Ladies’ Race at Kempton Park on May 6, 1972. This race was the fourth on card out of seven races, and the weather was awful. Not helping matters was Tufnell nor her horse Scorched Earth had ever raced before.

The race started poorly and Tufnell along with Scorched Earth were 50-1. But by either sheer luck, skill, or likely both, Tufnell came out on top beating out the others by two-and-a-half-lengths. She would later compete and win several other all-female races that year along with entering some of Britain’s first mixed race in Nottingham in 1974.

Tufnell had a short career, from 1972 to 1975 but in those three years she rode across Europe and won several races such as Goodwood and Newbury in 1973. This time she was writing a new horse named Dynamic Dan, which became her favorite horse and was used at Goodwood and Newbury. Dynamic Dan was trained by Bernard van Cutsem unlike Scorched Earth who was trained by Peter Bailey.

Tufnell helped form, and govern, the Lady Jockeys’ Association of Great Britain and after retiring she went on to work at an equestrian yard as an instructor, followed by training point-to-pointers and hunter chasers. Sadly, Tufnell passed away in 2002 at the age of 53 due to cancer; her last act in life was to raise money for a children’s cancer charity named Sparks.

It might be safe to assume that many women jockey can own their heritage to Tufnell. While she was certainly not the first female jockey, or even the first in Britain, she like Aldred proved women have as much place on the tracks as men do. Even suffering disabilities as a child, Tufnell refused to give up on her dreams even as she approached the end of her years.

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