Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have seen a noticeable increase in the number of female jockeys taking to the jumps. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but certainly, the last couple of seasons have seen female jockeys on better rides with more opportunities.
Even better is that, statistically, if you had exclusively backed female jockeys in jumps racing, you would have fared better in four of the last five years than those supporting only male riders.
That is the conclusion of Racing Post data, which supports the result of a study conducted by the University of Liverpool. So while female jump jockeys are often underestimated by punters, they actually offer a much better return on investment on bets.
Figures show that over the last five jump seasons female riders outperformed male jockeys in all but the 2016/17 campaign. The University of Liverpool analysed of over 1.6 million rides covering an 18-year period. It determined that a jumps horse ridden by a female jockey at odds of 9-1 has the same chance of winning as a male-ridden horse at 8-1.
Case in point is the 2019 Cheltenham Festival when 14.3% of wins came from female riders. Rachael Blackmore won two major races, while Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly both took home one win each. That was despite female jockeys receiving only 9.2% of the total number of rides available. The figures show that of the 498 runners that started at the Cheltenham Festival, 452 were ridden by men. 46 were ridden by women.
The research was authored by Vanessa Cashmore at the University of Liverpool research. She is a Ph.D. student at the University who also works for the Northern Racing College. It was published by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) with support from Women In Racing and the Racing Foundation.
She said: “This analysis seems to suggest there is a significant difference between the material performance of female jump jockeys and the public perception of their capability.
“The betting public consistently underestimate these jockeys. This could be an indicator of negative public opinion about the ability of female riders, but also ensures there is value to be found in backing horses ridden by female jockeys in jump races.
“I hope this research can move us another step closer to altering attitudes towards female jockeys and more importantly, driving behavioural change.”
The analysis found that when riding a horse who starts at even money, for example, a female jockey can be expected to win the race 52% of the time. Despite this, however, nearly half of all racehorse trainers did not use a female jockey on any of their runners last year. On the face of it that is a pretty dire indictment of the industry. But unless there are actually more female jockeys at that level, it’s difficult to reach any sort of parity.
In fact, it is estimated that it will take more than a century for total parity to be achieved in jumps racing.
The original trailblazers including Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh have since retired leaving the door wide open for the likes of Bryony Frost and Rachael Blackmore. Who hopefully will be able to break a few more glass ceilings.
Frost famously made history riding Frodon to victory in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. Not only was she the first female jockey to ride in the race but she went and won it as well. It was the fairytale of the Festival and it genuinely couldn’t have happened to a more accomplished rider.
Rachael Blackmore, who rides primarily for trainers Henry De Bromhead and Willie Mullins, notched up 90 winners last season. That put her in second place in the Irish Jockeys’ Championship which has never been won by a female jockey. She also amassed earnings over more than €1.6M.
And while Blackmore and Frost may be the more recognisable names, there are still plenty of other female jockeys working today. Tabitha Worsley, Page Fuller, Bridget Andrews, Isabel Williams and Gina Andrews are all off to a great start for the 2019/20 season.
Will we see more historic wins over the next few months? Can one of them win the Grand National 2020? Here’s hoping.