Since 2010, at least one female jockey has ridden in every renewal of the Grand National. In fact, in 2018, Grand National ‘veteran’ Katie Walsh – who has ridden in the National half a dozen times – was joined by newcomers Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost, to make three female jockeys for the first time since 1988.
On the previous occasion that happened, Penny Ffitch-Heyes got no further than the first fence on Hettinger, Venetia Williams parted company with Marcolo at Becher’s Brook and was knocked unconscious in the fall and Gee Armytage, on Gee-A, was behind when pulling up at the fence after Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit.
However, the 2018 renewal had a much happier outcome, on the whole, for the female participants. Alpha Des Obeaux, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, took a heavy fall at The Chair when tracking the leaders, but both horse and jockey were none the worse for it, Baie Des Iles, ridden by Katie Walsh, completed the course in his own time to finish a tailed-off twelfth, and last, and Milansbar, ridden by Bryony Frost, stayed on to finish a never-dangerous fifth, beaten 32½ lengths, behind the winner, Tiger Roll.
Female participation in the Grand National began in 1977, following the Sex Discrimination Act two years earlier, and the pioneering jockey was 21-year-old amateur Charlotte Brew. She made front page news, at least before the race, but failed to complete the course, with her own horse, Barony Fort, eventually refusing at the open ditch four fences from home.
The first female jockey to complete the National Course was 26-year-old Geraldine Rees who, in 1982, rode Cheers into an exhausted eighth, and last, place. The next female jockey to complete the course was 51-year-old Rosemary Henderson on Fiddlers Pike, a 13-year-old former point-to-pointer whom she owned and trained, in 1994. Despite racing from 15lb out of the handicap, the 100/1 chance managed to finish fifth, albeit beaten 55¼ lengths.
After a hiatus of 11 years, Carrie Ford also finished fifth, on second favourite Forest Gunner, in 2005 and, thereafter, for over a decade, the Grand National was the preserve of just two female jockeys, Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh. Nina Carberry made her Grand National debut in 2006, finishing ninth on the aforementioned Forest Gunner, and has since completed the course on three of her five subsequent attempts. Her best placing, though, is still only seventh, on Character Building in 2010, and even he was never a factor in the race famously won by Don’t Push It, under Sir Anthony McCoy.
Katie Walsh, on the other hand, made an immediate impact on her Grand National debut in 2012, guiding Seabass, trained by her father, Ted, to an excellent third place, beaten just 5 lengths, after leading halfway up the famously long, stamina-sapping run-in. In so doing, she achieved the highest placing ever in the Grand National by a female jockey. So far, she has failed to match that performance, but has failed to complete the course just once in five subsequent attempts; in 2016, her mount Ballycasey was weakening out of contention when making a mistake and unseating her at the second last fence.