Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

Celebrating Women In Racing

Thursday, March 08, 2018

When it comes to female jockeys winning races, no one bats an eyelid. For decades, female riders have been matching their male counterparts in Ireland and abroad. Modern-day heroines like Nina Carberry, Rachael Blackmore, Katie Walsh and Lisa O’Neill are among the top riders in the country while there are only a handful of names bigger than Jessica Harrington in the training ranks.


Last year, was certainly Harrington’s year. She sent out three winners at the Cheltenham Festival, the treble highlighted by the victory of Sizing John in the Timico Gold Cup. With a Festival tally of 11 winners, she is the most successful female trainer at Cheltenham and the only Irish trainer to have won the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase. For good measure, she won the richest prize in Irish jump racing when Our Duke ran out a most impressive winner of the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in April.  


Top amateur riders Nina Carberry, Katie Walsh and Lisa O’Neill are all Cheltenham Festival winners. Carberry has seven to her name and she was the first female rider to defeat the professionals in a race at the Cheltenham since 1987 when riding her first Festival winner in 2005. She is the joint-eighth leading current jockey at the Festival.


Another Cheltenham Festival winning jockey is her sister-in-law is Katie Walsh who has two Festival winners to her name, one over hurdles and one over fences. She too beat the professional riders when gaining her initial success at Cheltenham in the cavalry charge that is the County Hurdle in 2010. Like Nina, she has also won the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse and came close to winning the Aintree Grand National when third in the race in 2012.


And she has also ridden the winner of the Kerry National at the famed Harvest festival at Listowel, a race Lisa O’Neill has won for the last two years. Dubliner O’Neill has won the race on two horses that Gordon Elliott has trained for leading owners Gigginstown House Stud. Since September, she has won ten bumper races in the same colours for the season’s leading trainer.


Rachael Blackmore has had an even better time of it. She is well on target to better last season’s tally of 32 winners which was more than enough to see her become the first female to be crowned Ireland’s champion conditional rider. She rode a big winner at the Galway Festival last August and has been a regular visitor to the number one spot since. Only two weeks’ ago, she rode her first winner in a Graded race, on a horse for Gigginstown House Stud and Gordon Elliott.


And long before the current crop of female jockeys, there were trailblazers going back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s.


Declan McDonogh’s mother Helen was one, riding close to 130 point-to-point winners and 15 more on the track, including one in France, during her riding career. Just three months after the arrival of her son, the future champion jockey, in early 1980, Helen was in the saddle as Monksfield won the BMW Amateur Riders Hurdle at Down Royal which was to the final success of his remarkable career. Ted Walsh, one of the greatest amateur riders of all time, rode the second in the race that day.


And well before that, Mrs Anne Brewster (aka Anne Biddle) was the first woman to hold a trainer’s licence in Ireland and sent out her first winner, Flying Tiger, at Naas on 31st August 1966. In the 1970s, Joanna Morgan was a top apprentice rider for legendary trainer Seamus McGrath and was still riding winners in the early 1990s. She would later enjoy a successful training career. 


In 1984, the year both Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh were born, amateur rider Ann Ferris became the first female jockey to win the Irish Grand National on Bentom Boy. Trainers Jenny Pitman and Dot Love have also won the Irish Grand National in more recent years. Anne-Marie O’Brien was Ireland’s champion National Hunt Trainer in the 1992-1993 season and her sister Frances Crowley became the first female trainer to win a Classic in Ireland when Saoire won the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 2005, a year after Cathy Gannon was the first female jockey to be crowned champion apprentice.


If you are up to the job in Irish racing, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. Everyone competes off a level footing, no quarter asked, and none given. There is no fluke about the continued success of generations of women in racing, they are winners every day of the week.


And long before the current crop of female jockeys, there were trailblazers going back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s. 


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