The past couple of years have been halcyon days for female jockeys in horse racing.
In 2019, Bryony Frost set the template when she won the Ryanair Chase aboard Frodon – becoming the first woman to win at the Cheltenham Festival over obstacles.
And then you have Rachael Blackmore….where do you even start with her? In 2021, she became the first female rider to win the Ruby Walsh Trophy after dominating Cheltenham, where she would also become the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle.
Then, just a couple of weeks later, she prevailed in the Grand National aboard Minella Times – the first woman to board a winner in the Aintree showpiece.
Hollie Doyle has gone about her business in quiet fashion, but she has enjoyed plenty of success of her own. The 24-year-old is a three-time major winner in the British Champions Sprint, Long Distance Cup and Princess of Wales’s Stakes, and in 2019 she set a new record for the most winners from a female jockey in a single season. Third place in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award was surprising affirmation of her ascent.
Doyle may get a chance to add another slice of history to her bow in The Oaks, in which she will ride Sherbet Lemon, however the chance to compete in The Derby will elude her – Aidan O’Brien is taking just one horse to Epsom in a surprise move to many.
That’s a huge shame, as Doyle would have hoped to strike another blow for the girls – only three female jockeys have ever ridden in The Derby, which is a tremendous oversight given the talent pool on offer.
Alex Greaves (1996)
It took more than 200 years for a woman to ride in The Derby.
There had been woman trainers and owners in that time, of course, and plenty have enjoyed success, but it took two centuries before a female jockey took to the line.
The trailblazer was Alex Greaves, a pioneer for woman in racing in so many different ways. She was the first woman to ride a Group One winner – that was the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 1997 – and she would go on to enjoy more than 300 wins in her illustrious career.
But Greaves’ first moment of history came in The Derby of 1996, where she partnered Portuguese Lil on the famous Epsom track.
Priced at 500/1 by the bookies, Portuguese Lil didn’t stand much of a chance in quick conditions, but Greaves put in a masterful display of riding on a momentous day for women in the sport.
“Going back 20 years now, when it was the first time a woman rode the Derby, there being a female jockey did probably make it a higher profile outside of racing,” Greaves said when reflecting on her famous day.
Hayley Turner (2012)
Why it took 16 years for the next female jockey to be offered a mount in The Derby is anybody’s guess.
But there’s surprise that the honour was bestowed upon Hayley Turner, one of the most prolific winners of that particular era who once scored more than 100 victories in a single season back in 2008.
Turner won the July Cup and Nunthorpe Stakes, and as a safe pair of hands she was chosen to board Cavaleiro in The Derby of 2012.
It didn’t quite happen for the duo on the day, but the runout cemented Turner’s status as one of the key figures in horse racing for women. She would become the first female to ride on the Dubai World Cup night, and secured an international Grade One victory in the Beverley D. Stakes.
Without Turner, the likes of Hollie Doyle might not even have the opportunities that are available to them.
Ana O’Brien (2017)
The daughter of legendary trainer Aidan O’Brien, Anan did not need to rely on nepotism to make her way in racing.
Indeed, she squired her first winner at Fairyhouse at just 16, and as more victories followed O’Brien was tipped for a huge career in the saddle.
Sadly, those dreams were extinguished when she suffered a ghastly career-ending injury, but not before she made history by becoming the third woman to ride in The Derby.
The Irishwoman handled The Anvil, a 66/1 outsider, and she became the first female rider to beat a fellow jockey home in the famous flat race.
There’s absolutely no doubt that O’Brien would have ridden in The Derby again at some point, and she would have been crowned champion apprentice jockey too but for the sickening fall at Killarney that broke her neck and back and almost left her paralysed.
While only some consolation you suspect, at least she knows her place in racing history is secure.