Female Jump Jockeys Still Hoping For A Leap Of Faith

Once again, this season has seen female jockeys mix it with the men and at the highest level. We run the rule over a quartet of women riders that have impressed. With the Cheltenham Festival approaching, can they look forward to the rides that their recent performances indicate they deserve?

Bryony Frost

We simply have to start with the young woman who has been a complete revelation, this season. Frost’s father Jimmy rode Little Polvier to victory, in the 1989 Grand National and the family’s racing heritage goes back even further as her grandfather was a trainer and the family home in Buckfastleigh is full of memorabilia that celebrates the Frosts love and commitment to riding over many decades.

There was never any doubt that Bryony was going to work in racing, when she grew-up. She was riding at 4 and sat on her first racehorse at 9. At school, she had few friends simply because she had no time for them. School lessons were also just an inconvenience – something that prevented her from spending more time with her ponies (she won 50 pony races, as a child and was Devon and Cornwall champion several times).

“I rode my ponies before I went to school in the morning. I went to school and counted down the clock until it was over. When I got back from school in the winter when the nights closed in early, I had one of those lights on my head that cyclists wear to be seen in the dark and the ponies soon learned to follow the light through the woods.”

It’s this sort of single-mindedness that gets people to the top of their professions and that looks to be where Bryony Frost should be heading, following her first Group 1 success which came with Black Corton at Kempton on Boxing Day. She also won the Group 3 Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, last month with Frodon – winning by 17 lengths from Shantou Flyer, while the likes of Coo Star Sivola, O O Seven and Arctic Gold laboured further back in the field.

“The whole grandstand was cheering for Frodon… his ears were pricked and he had a spring in his step… he thought he was king. Too right! Look what he did! Of course he should believe in himself. He came back squealing!”

Frost is the type to direct any praise directly to the horse, but Frodon hadn’t won for nearly a year and the Frost/Frodon partnership might well have delivered at the very first time of asking if Nicky Henderson’s Gold Present hadn’t produced such a brilliant jump at the last in the Lavazza Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot in December.

Frost already has 33 winners under her belt, this season and she must be looking ahead to Cheltenham with a great deal of confidence. You can back Bryony Frost to win at least one Cheltenham race, with us at RaceBets and we are sure that many of you will find the 4/1 odds quite tempting!

Lizzie Kelly

While Kelly may have been somewhat eclipsed by the emergence of Bryony Frost, in this campaign, let’s not forget what a trailblazer this 23-year-old has already been in her short career. Kelly became the first woman to win a Grade 1 National Hunt encounter, when Tea For Two won the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton and she was only the second female to ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – also with Tea For Two, in 2017.

The horse did her no favours, in the Festival showpiece, unseating her at just the second fence and leaving a blameless Kelly on her knees though thankfully unhurt.

The past fortnight has brought further frustration, with a quartet of second-place finishes in her last 5 races. The most-recent defeat came aboard the well-backed Esprit De Somoza, at Taunton on Tuesday, but Nick Williams’ inmate was simply beaten by a better horse (The Russian Doyen). She showed us her riding skills at the same venue, at the beginning of the month, coaxing that little bit extra out of Culture De Sivola to record a gritty half-length victory over Somerset Jam.

Agrapart (beaten by Donna’s Diamond) was another that was expected to win under her, at Haydock last Saturday, but it’s less than a month since she won the Cleeve Hurdle on that horse at odds of 9/1. The 2018 renewal featured the likes of Wholestone, Colin’s Sister, The Worlds End, Beer Goggles and Finian’s Oscar. Kelly’s intelligent hold-up ride worked a treat and the partnership triumphed by a full 3 lengths.

Following this huge win, Kelly first paid tribute Richard Woollacott (who recently passed-away) before showing gratitude to both Agrapart and his owners.

“This horse has helped shape my career, the owners have been so good to me. I’m delighted their faith in me has paid off. They started using me when I was a 10lb claimer. I love riding this horse, as he tries so hard. He travelled so well, I got to the front too soon. Once this horse gets his head in front he doesn’t like being beaten.”

That may well be so, but Kelly is also a fearsome competitor and she’s competing with the best jockeys in the business on merit.

Bridget Andrews

Andrews suffered one of every jockey’s worst nightmares, when racing at Southwell last October. She was on-board 7/4 favourite Stick To The Plan, in a hurdles race at Southwell and the contest looked in the bag as the pair cleared the last going away from the field. However, drama struck when Andrews lost an iron. She regained it but there was clearly a problem with grip as her foot slipped out once more, just a few yards from the finish. This second loss of the iron caused Andrews to lose balance and while she clearly did everything she could, to keep the partnership intact, an untidy divorce took place just a few strides from the winning-post.

“So sorry to everyone I let down today! No excuses. I fell off and I will make sure it doesn’t happen again!” tweeted Andrews, after the race.

While there was no question that the unfortunate sequence of events was anything other than an accident, the usual trolls were quick to point the finger. While most punters are generally supportive of female jockeys, they often face unfair criticism when something goes wrong with remarks often focusing needlessly on gender. No jockey goes through a season without losing a race that they really should have won and the vitriol Andrews faced, following the Southwell fall, was simply ridiculous.

She has come through this test of character and has now amassed 28 victories in the current campaign. Virtually all of her rides are for Dan Skelton and Andrews was superb when riding Tommy Rapper and holding-off the challenge from Theo’s Charm, at Haydock on Saturday – winning an important Pertemps qualifier by just a neck.

Bridget Andrews is just 24 and she’s a jockey that Skelton clearly has a great deal of belief in. There’s much more to come from this talented rider, so keep an eye on her!

Rachael Blackmore

Blackmore became the first female jockey to with the Irish conditional jockeys title, last year. Many felt she was unfairly overlooked when Joseph O’Brien received the ‘Outstanding Achievement’ award at the Horse Racing Ireland Awards, in December. However, this would surely be a case of splitting hairs, as both are simply outstanding and achieving a great deal!

She already has 27 winners in the 2017/2018 season and these include the victory of David’s Charm in a €100,000 handicap hurdle, at the Fairyhouse Winter Festival. She was also given the ride on Ellmarie Holden’s Call The Taxie, in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, but the partnership came to grief at the 10th fence and the race was won by Anibale Fly.

Blackmore has indicated that we may see a bumper crop of female jockeys, in the next few years.

“I went to RACE (apprentice school) last year and a lot of people on that course were girls. A lot of them intended getting going as conditionals or apprentices. It might take them a bit longer to establish themselves but they’re definitely there anyway.”

However, she clearly feels that women don’t require any special treatment and is one of many female jockeys that have rejected any idea of a gender-based weight allowance. The question has been raised following a controversial initiative in France that now sees women jockeys being handed a 2kg allowance. It has led to significant increases in the number of rides taken by females and, inevitably, the number of winners. Blackmore doesn’t mince words, over the issue.

“With the French thing, I just don’t think we need it here. I don’t even think of it now. It’s old news.”

Few would disagree that women jockeys have found it difficult to establish themselves, in Ireland though – particularly over jumps. Cathy Gannon’s success, before she was forced to retire with a foot injury, has certainly opened more doors but she made her name on the flat.

Irish National Hunt is notoriously tough and attitudes have not been especially progressive towards female riders. Rachael Blackmore, whether she likes it or not, finds herself at the forefront of the battle for Irish jump-jockeys to be taken seriously regardless of her sex.

At the end of the day, it’s her ability that should be doing the talking and right now it has plenty to say.

If you have enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the much-read piece we published titled ‘20 Women Set To Dominate Horse Racing, Over The Next Decade‘. It proved to be one of the most-read racing pieces of recent years and virtually all of those mentioned within it are continuing to make great strides within the sport we all love.

Back Bryony Frost, with RaceBets, to win at least one Cheltenham race – 4/1


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