Wednesday 29 January 2020

'I could have trained horses or done whatever the f**k I wanted' - Lizzie Kelly on overcoming chauvinism

Jockey Lizzie Kelly (centre)
Jockey Lizzie Kelly (centre)

Rozina Sabur and Ben Rumsby

The first female jockey to ride in the Gold Cup for 33 years has revealed how she overcame chauvinism to make history.

At 23, Lizzie Kelly will be the first woman since Linda Sheedy in 1984 to take part in the sport's most prestigious race. But while Sheedy's performance was very much as an outsider, riding a horse with 500/1 odds, Kelly has her sights set on a top spot.

"It's exciting for me to have a ride in the Gold Cup and a privilege," she said. "Tea For Two is not a 500/1 outsider - we're not going for the free lunch."

Kelly has already broken a record by becoming the first female jockey to win a Grade One jump race in 2015 on Tea For Two, the horse she will be racing on today.

In 2015, she even beat AP McCoy as a student amateur at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.

Kelly has been vocal about the difficulties the sport holds for women, who are more likely to struggle to feel accepted. But, she said, she has made good friends in the weighing room.

Discussing the position of women in the sport, and her own ambitions, she said: "We're trying to be equal. I've basically trained my whole life to be as good as any male jockey. I've worked hard and I think that you come into the sport knowing that you're at a disadvantage being a girl, if that's your opinion. No-one's put a gun to my head and said, 'You have to be a jockey'. I could have gone and worked in a race course or trained horses or done whatever the f**k I wanted."

With her step father as her trainer and her mother part-owner of the horse she is riding, it is very much a family enterprise.

But Kelly, who lives and works with her family in North Devon, insisted her place in the Gold Cup is down to her own talent.

"I'm lucky in the fact that I'm associated with a horse who has the ability to line up for it and that's why I'm here - in the same way that [Sheedy] did 33 years ago," she did.

"She was associated with a horse; she didn't pick it up as a spare ride. "At this point, it would make no sense for them to drop me off Tea For Two and put someone else on it, because I know him inside out.

"Whether he was trained by my parents or not, it wouldn't make any sense. If Jack Kennedy, for example, has ridden a horse for the last three seasons, won a Grade One on him, won the Lanzarote on him, and had him taken off and put Paul Moloney on, you'd be, like, 'That's random. Why have they done that?'"

Speaking ahead of today's race, Kelly said she was aware of its significance.

"I do feel that I get a lot of attention that perhaps isn't warranted, just purely based on the fact that I'm a girl," she said.

"No woman's ridden it since I've been watching it. So, I knew it was definitely going to make a story. "But, at the same time, again, it's not something I really think about.

"It would be very easy for me to go into [the Gold Cup] thinking, 'Oh, I've got all this media attention; I'm going to win; that's why people are interested'.

"I'd prefer doing media stuff when I'd won something rather than going into it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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