The enormous strides that female jockeys are taking in the National Hunt thanks to the exploits of Rachael Blackmore are well and truly being emulated on the Flat by Hollie Doyle.
She has racked up five Group 1 wins in her young career already, with victories on UK soil in the British Champions Sprint Stakes, Goodwood Cup and Nassau Stakes matched by a pair of high-profile wins in France: the prestigious Prix de Diane and Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp both claimed by Doyle in a stellar 2022 campaign.
Actually, scratch that. Five became six when Doyle piloted Bradsell to victory in the King’s Stand Stakes in June – the first female jockey to ever land a Group 1 renewal at Royal Ascot.
It’s not as if she needed the press – Doyle finished runner-up in the champion jockey standings in 2022 to confirm her prowess in the saddle, but with a huge crowd watching on from the stands at Ascot and many more cheering her on from their armchairs, the 26-year-old’s ascent to household name is complete.
Doyle might be the first woman to win a Group 1 title at Royal Ascot, but that’s not to say she’s the first female jockey to strike gold at the festival….
|19th June 1987||Queen Alexandra Stakes||Sprowston Boy (12/1)||£10k|
It was a family affair for Gay Kelleway, who became the first woman in history to ride a winner at Royal Ascot when she partnered her father’s horse, Sprowston Boy, to victory in the 1987 Queen Alexandra Stakes.
This was some triumph too, with Sprowston Boy a 12/1 underdog in a race in which Kelleway would have to beat some of the greats of Flat racing, including Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Willie Carson.
But after abandoning the tactics set out by her trainer father Paul, Kelleway set off for home from Swinley Bottom – nobody could get close as she completed her moment of racing folklore.
“I was thinking, “any minute now I will get such a b********g” — my mother said father was going ballistic — but I knew I had done the right thing. I think I won by 10 lengths,” Kelleway recalls after ditching plans for a steady pace on Sprowston Boy.
Now a distinguished trainer in her own right, Kelleway will forever be remembered for smashing the glass ceiling at Royal Ascot….
|21st June 2019||Sandringham Stakes||Thanks Be (33/1)||£56k|
|18th June 2020||Sandringham Stakes||Onassis (33/1)||£39k|
|22nd June 2023||Britannia Stakes||Docklands (6/1)||£62k|
Although there was plenty of noteworthy female jockeys in the interim period, it would take another 32 years before another woman was to strike gold at Royal Ascot.
It would come as no surprise that it would be Hayley Turner who ended the hoodoo. She had become the first woman to ride 100 winners in a calendar year in 2008, won the July Cup and Nunthorpe Stakes in 2011 to become the first female Group 1 champion and followed up with victory in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes in America a year later.
But it was in 2019, four years after announcing her retirement, that Turner was back in the saddle and landing one of her most famous wins: the Sandringham Stakes on board the 33/1 underdog Thanks Be.
She said on her way to the winner’s enclosure that it was ‘only a matter of time’ before a woman won again at Royal Ascot, and as if to prove her point Turner repeated the feat in the Sandringham Stakes a year later, winning aboard another outsider in Onassis.
|19th June 2020||Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes||Scarlet Dragon (33/1)||£39k|
|20th June 2023||King’s Stand Stakes||Bradsell (14/1)||£356k|
|23rd June 2023||Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes||Rhthym N Hooves (12/1)||£52k|
|24tg June 2023||Wokingham Stakes||Saint Lawrence (22/1)||£90k|
While Turner was the trailblazer for female jockeys in the modern era, it’s Doyle that has picked up the baton and ran with it.
She won her first race at Royal Ascot back in 2020, guiding Scarlet Dragon to the line in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes.
Like Turner before her, Doyle had to do things the hard way on board a 33/1 also-ran, but she enjoyed a smooth ride and even finished ahead of her future husband Tom Marquand in the handicap renewal.
“I was inspired by Hayley and hope now I can inspire young people too,” Doyle said afterwards.
“Riding a winner at a festival like Royal Ascot is a dream come true.
“ You try to picture in your head what it’s like to ride a winner here, but it is very hard”.
Little did Doyle know that it would be just three years before she was celebrating her maiden Group 1 winner at the royal meeting.