Horse racing has long been dominated by men, and given that fact alone, what Lizzie Kelly has achieved already is quite remarkable. Not only is the 25-year-old jockey excelling in the sport, she is succeeding in the only sport where women take on men on equal terms. Outside of her success on the annual circuit, Kelly is helping break down gender barriers across all sports.
Kelly is aware of her trailblazing ways, although she refuses to make a fuss. She is concerned more about the challenges that women like her must overcome to even get a chance of competing in horse racing. In an interview with The Telegraph, Kelly admitted as much, noting, “There are plenty of reasons why trainers don’t use girls, and it is never going to change. Every generation, there are two or three female jockeys who are used, but it doesn’t go any further.” She then rued the still unchanged notion that females are “the ones who should be at home, looking after the children.” She also lamented how female riders “don’t believe in themselves,” and pointed out that this lack of self-belief is holding them back significantly.
Confidence, clearly, has not been a problem for Kelly, who told The Telegraph that she had always believed that she was going to be a professional jockey. Refusing to be pigeonholed into the role of a domestic caretaker, the aspiring rider pursued her dream relentlessly and eventually got her first big break in 2014. The then 21-year-old Kelly became a conditional jockey for her horse trainer stepfather, Nick Williams, which took her one step closer to becoming a professional.
Just a year later, Kelly nearly became the first female rider to win a Grade One race in France, as Aubusson narrowly lost to Thousand Stars in the Grand Prix d’Automne at Auteuil. She bounced back a month later and made history in the process as she guided Tea For Two to victory in the Kauto Star Novice Chase. With that win, she became the first female jockey to win a Grade One race in the UK. Kelly has since added to her growing reputation, winning Europe’s richest handicap hurdle in 2016 while riding Agrapart in The Betfair Hurdle, and then becoming the first female jockey in 33 years to compete in the Cheltenham Gold Cup a year later.
The accolades are no doubt impressive, but the trail Kelly has blazed for her female peers has been even more inspiring. In a feature on the most iconic British sportswomen by Coral, the list included Kelly among an array of esteemed athletes, showing just how respected she is on home soil as an elite performer. Kelly has paved the way for other female jockeys, notably Bridget Andrews and Bryony Frost, both of whom have enjoyed success in the sport. Frost, in particular, pulled off the same feat that Kelly achieved in 2015 by winning the 2017 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase riding Black Corton. Andrews, meanwhile, became the second female rider to win at the Cheltenham Festival, winning this year’s County Hurdle riding home Mohaayed.
What Kelly has achieved can never be understated, and she is an inspiration to both women and men. Through making a mark in a sport dominated by men and competing on equal terms, Kelly has made giant strides for equality in not only horse racing, but other sporting disciplines too. That, in itself, is certainly one feat that the entire world ought to know about.
Written by Allison Natalie
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