Sunday 18 August 2019

Lizzie's last laugh: Jubilant Lizzie insists female jockeys enjoy parity with male counterparts

Lizzie Kelly celebrates on Siruh Du Lac after winning at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Lizzie Kelly celebrates on Siruh Du Lac after winning at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Tom Morgan

They sniggered when a schoolgirl called Lizzie Kelly announced her ambition to be a professional jockey. Yesterday, those doubters came joyfully to mind for the 26-year-old as she held aloft her trophy in the winners' enclosure on a historic day for women in racing.

Her success on Siruh Du Lac in the £110,000 Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase came less than an hour after Bryony Frost's heroics in the Ryanair Chase. With Rachael Blackmore set for a record-smashing 17 rides, it has been another Festival of trailblazing for the women on horseback.

Kelly, who is based in Devon, produced a bold, front-running ride on six-year-old Siruh Du Lac, who is trained by her stepfather Nick Williams. "I grew up with people laughing at me when I said I wanted to be a jockey," said Kelly, who was screaming with joy following her triumph. "That gives you a chip on your shoulder and you've got something to prove."

Numbers of female winners have risen steadily since the first winner, Caroline Beasley, on Eliogarty in the St James' Palace Foxhunter Chase in 1983. There were two winners in 1987, both ridden by Gee Armytage, three winners in 2017, and a record four winners in 2018.

As far as Kelly is concerned, the sport is now a completely level playing field for men and women. "The fact that we've come so far in a relatively short period is massive," she added. "On a day-to-day basis, I think we are getting the same amount of opportunities now and I think girls slightly have an advantage in that you can do the low weights too, so that's a good thing."

There has been a separate weighing room for some years at Cheltenham and it is now regularly in full use. Women previously had to get changed in a broom cupboard. "We love being together," said Kelly.

"For the first time in my career - I've been race-riding for 10 years, started point-to-pointing at 16 - there's a mini weighing room now, rather than an add-on.

"Now there are so many (women) you sometimes don't need to go in to get your hat tied because you are there chatting to the girls. Boys don't want to talk about nail polish or is leopard-skin in this year, they don't want to talk about that. It's nice to have the girls."

Kelly finds it particularly moving that she is inspiring young girls to get on horseback. "That gets you," she said. "When you've got a small girl that comes up and says 'you're my favourite jockey' - the fact they even know me is mind-boggling."

Kelly said Rachael Blackmore, the Irishwoman who rides in the Gold Cup today, is the "idol we should all have". "Girls have a tendency to be jealous, and I think it's really important for everyone, every girl - I'm not saying any of us are jealous - but I'm just saying that you must appreciate what she is doing for the sport," she said.

For Kelly, it is now time for other sports to take note. "I think racing needs to shout about what we do more," she said. "Equal prize money, equal riding fee. That is rare in elite sport... It's shocking to think that until recently a Wimbledon champion who was female got less prize money than the Wimbledon champion that was a man. That is nuts. We've got a lot to shout about and I think we're doing a good job of it."

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