There are few sports that have done more to showcase diversity in the modern era than horse racing. The sport has embraced stars from all backgrounds, regardless of their sex or colour of their skin. That has been mirrored on track by the performances of some of the biggest stars in the saddle.
Throughout recent history, there have been few more empowering sports stars than female jockeys, who have continued to push through the glass ceiling to showcase young and impressionable fans that there is a route into the sport. But, who are some of the most successful female jockeys who participated in major horse races?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more pioneering jockey in the world than Rachael Blackmore. The Irish superstar broke a long-standing record in 2021, as she became the first female jockey to win the Grand National in the race’s 182 year history with Minella Times. Blackmore wouldn’t be content with just breaking that esteemed honor, as she also became the first female to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup when taking the ride on A Plus Tard in 2022.
Blackmore has become one of the jockeys that transcend jumps racing, in a very similar way to how Frankie Dettori was always box office viewing on the flat. Despite being just 34, Blackmore will go down as one of the best jockeys in the history of the sport, and she has been awarded a number of accolades to show for her accomplishments. Those include being named the RTE Sports Person of the Year in 2021, and picking up the award for BBC World Sport Star of the Year.
While Blackmore was writing headlines over the sticks, female success in Australia’s biggest race was already in the history books. Michelle Payne made international headlines around the world in 2015, as she rode Prince of Penzance to glory in the prestigious Melbourne Cup. The victory saw her become the first female jockey to win the illustrious race, and to date, she is the only woman to have rode the winner in the Melbourne Cup.
Payne also rode huge winners in other prestigious races on the Australian calendar, including the Tattersall’s Tiara in 2011, and The Thousand Guineas and Sires’ Produce Stakes in 2010. Such was the popularity of Payne’s story that a film was made in her honour in 2019, with Teresa Palmer playing Payne in ‘Ride Like A Girl’.
There are few bigger stars on the flat across Europe than Hollie Doyle. The 26-year-old set the record for most winners rode by a female jockey in a single season in 2019, and was later awarded third place for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2020. Doyle’s accolades on track saw her named the esteemed Sunday Times Sportswoman of the year. However, Classic success would elude her until 2022. But, she finally landed a win in one of the prized Group 1s, as she landed the Prix de Diane with Nashwa.
Her success in France would continue throughout the 2022 season, as she would also pick up a historic win in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp on board The Platinum Queen, before landing the Nassau Stakes with French Oaks heroine Nashwa. She ended the season in joint second in the Flat Jockeys’ Championship, which was the highest position of any female rider in history. On home soil, she would continue to pick up top prizes throughout 2023, landing the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, before winning the Falmouth Stakes later in the same year.