There have been great strides made by women in sports, and some genuinely inspiring female athletes have blazed the trail for others to follow. If you like to follow horse racing, you may still be painfully aware that not many female jockeys get a shot at the top races in the calendar every year. Perhaps the standout race in this regard is the famous Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs – most years see the Kentucky Derby betting forecast missing off the best female jockeys.
That was the case in the 2019 race and also looks likely to be true in the 2020 version. Of course, the 2020 Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled due to COVID-19 and will now take place on September 5th 2020. Previous years have seen some very talented women climb into the saddle to tackle the two-minute sprint to a possible victory. That has proved to the world that women can race just as well as men, and it also provided the inspiration for more young female jockeys to follow.
But just who were the history-making female jockeys who charmed the Derby with their mixture of class and talent?
Perhaps THE most famous woman to ride at the Kentucky Derby is still the first – Diane Crump. Affectionately known as the ‘Darling of the Derby’ in her prime, Crump competed back in 1970 when it was a real struggle for women to be taken seriously in competitive professional sports. In the 1970 race, she rode Fathom to 15th place. While the result was nothing special, her considerable achievement in getting a ride and the impact it made for women in sport was spectacular.
It may sound unbelievable, but we had to wait a whole 14 years for the next woman jockey to get a Derby ride. Patti Cooksey (also known as P.J.) was not only the second-ever female Derby jockey but also the first-ever to take on the Preakness Stakes. Cooksey took a horse called ‘So Vague’ around the track in the 1984 Derby and came in 11th overall. Before Julie Krone came to prominence, Cooksey also held the record for the most victories by a female jockey ever with 2,137 wins.
The third woman to gain a ride at the Kentucky Derby was Andrea Seefeldt. She is another famous name within horse racing for her many victories and the way she brought more attention to women in professional sports generally. Seefeldt has since claimed she saw a lot of positive change in this regard throughout her career in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1991, she took the Derby on and made it home in 16th on Forty Something.
Some names are so huge that they transcend the sport in which they compete. Over her career, Krone notched up several significant achievements, such as being the first female jockey to win a Breeder’s Cup race. She also competed in the Kentucky Derby twice! Her first go was in 1992 when she took Ecstatic Ride to 14th place. She came back for another try in 1995 when she rode Suave Prospect to 11th. Of course, keen followers of women in sport will also remember her fabulous Belmont Stakes win on Colonial Affair – this saw her become the first woman to win a Triple Crown race.
Many will remember this name for the Eclipse Award she won in 1992. It was the first time a female jockey won the award for being the most talented apprentice in US racing. Homeister followed this up by becoming the fifth woman ever to try her hand in the 2003 Derby. Although it was not a race to write home about for her, the 13th place she got on Supah Blitz certainly saw her hold her own.
Rosie Napravnik also holds the honor of riding this race twice as she competed in the 2011 and 2013 versions. The 2011 race saw her on-board ‘Pants on Fire’ and she came in at a very respectable 9th. In 2013, she rode the horse ‘Mylute’ to fifth, which was even better. Her other notable achievements included coming 3rd in the 2013 Preakness Stakes on ‘Mylute’ and being the only woman as yet to ride in all three Triple Crown races.
Iconic female names for sports fans to treasure
While the sport of horse racing in the USA may still not see too many female jockeys given the chance they deserve, the names above have certainly helped change people’s perceptions of what is possible. With the growing public appetite for more women in sport to be given a fair crack of the whip, we can only hope to see more women jockeys riding in the Kentucky Derby in the future.