In the above video, Betway ambassador Katie Walsh takes us through a brief history of female jockeys in the Grand National. Charlotte Brew was where it all began, so let’s take a closer look at her life and how it paved the way for other women in sport.
In days gone by, the Grand National had little to do with women. Considering the inaugural running of the Grand National was in 1839, there have been many opportunities for the fairer sex to shine as a trainer or jockey.
It’s a sad fact that it took almost 140 years for a female jockey to take part in the Grand National. 1977 wasn’t simply an iconic year because Red Rum won his third National for Ginger McCain. It was important because Charlotte Brew and her gelding Barony Fort made history by taking part in the most famous steeplechase in the world. Horse and rider got as far as the 27th fence before refusing to jump, just four obstacles from the finishing line.
It was a tremendous effort which paved the way for a new generation – female jockeys.
Brew made her own opportunities. She wasn’t given the ride because Barony Fort was her horse. In fact, it is questionable whether she would have been given a ride without this factor. Back in the 1970s, thoroughbred horse trainers were predominantly men. And, to be fair, many trainers held the opinion that the Grand National was no place for a women.
However, times were changing and the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act helped bring equality that could be questioned by law. It was no longer a matter of opinion. Especially a man’s decision of whether a female jockey should compete.
Equality gave opportunity.
Brew used the very system than may have been used to sideline her to compete. She qualified for the Grand National by finishing fourth in the 1976 Fox Hunters Chase, run over the same obstacles. She proved that woman and horse where equal to any challenge.
For many jockeys the battle to win the Grand National is the ultimate goal.
For female jockeys it took over a century to get to the start line let alone the finish.
Geraldine Rees made history in 1982 when she rode Cheers to complete the Grand National in 8th place. She was the first female jockey to complete the 4m 3 1/2f and 30 fences.
The first female jockey to complete this historic race from 1977 – 1989.
Thirteen horses and female jockeys attempted this gruelling challenge and her mount either refused, pulled-up or fell at a fence.
They weren’t deterred.
In 2012, Katie Walsh rode the favourite Seabass who completed the course in third place. A historic moment. As Walsh says: ‘It’s only a matter of time before a female jockey wins the Grand National.’
It will be a day that all who believe in equality savour.
The first female jockey to win the Grand National. It’s a reality – not just a dream.
In a remarkable career in the saddle, Sir Anthony McCoy rode over 4,000 winners but, as far as the wider public is concerned, achieved his crowning glory when winning the 2010 Grand National on Don’t Push It.
In fifteen previous attempts, McCoy had finished third in the celebrated steeplechase three times – on Blowing Wind twice, in 2001 and 2002, and Clan Royal in 2006 – but never won. Nevertheless, despite being pulled up on his previous start in the Pertemps Network Final at the Cheltenham Festival, where he reportedly ‘appeared to lose interest’, Don’t Push It was the subject of a public gamble, from 20/1 to 10/1 joint-favourite, on Grand National Day.
The market support proved well founded. The 10-year-old was well placed, just behind the leaders, heading out into the country for the second time and, despite making a mistake at the fence after Valentine;s Brook, was one of a group of four horses that drew clear with two fences left to jump. He tackled the leader, Black Apalachi, at the final fence and, although idling on the infamously long run-in, drew away in the closing stages to win by 5 lengths. McCoy later confessed, ‘It means everything to me to win the Grand National.’
Collectively, McCoy, winning trainer Jonjo O’Neill and winning owner John ‘J.P.’ McManus had made 62 attempts to win the Grand National. Don’t Push It was retired in January, 2012, at which point O’Neill reflected, ‘I think we’ll always remember the magical day he won the Grand National…as we had all been trying to win the race for so many years.’