Lizzie Kelly retires, but have girls smashed the glass ceiling?
Former Point-to-Point graduate Lizzie Kelly, Britain's leading professional rider, has hung up her boots to start a family.
Winner of 72 races under Rules and a further 50 or so Point-to-Point races, the 27 year old is due in December and a career stop would in all likelihood have been announced earlier, but for the lockdown taking racing out of the equation.
Lizzie cut her teeth on the West Country circuit, but she wasted no time becoming a professional, moving as conditional rider to Barbury-based Neil King 6 years ago in 2014. She was just 21. King provided her with 6 of her 72 Rules victories.
The old saying that blood is thicker than water was rarely better personified than in Lizzie's overall race record. In 514 rides under Rules, nearly 80% were delivered by mother Jane and step-father, Nick Williams, both shrewd handlers in their own right. Rides from other stables, let alone winners, have been hard to come by.
Nevertheless, there is merit in riding for a single stable, as Harry Skelton will testify. And the horses running for Williams provided access to the top stage on multiple occasions, most notably with Tea for Two in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day 2015. Tea for Two also gave Lizzie her first Gold Cup ride, and a memorable scalp of Cue Card in the Bowl at Aintree.
However, girls still find it hard to reach the top in Jump racing, where greater strength appears to sway trainers to select men. Between the flags, some 50% of rider certificates are issued to lady riders, but this hasn't as yet translated into a more equal split of male and female jockeys. It begs a question with no easy answer.
In the 73 runnings of the Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase since 1946, the race has been won just 11 times by lady riders, and even then, the glass ceiling wasn't broken before Caroline Beasley (now Robinson) on Eliogarty in 1983. Katie Rimell, Polly Gundry and Fiona Needham - now Clerk of the Course at Catterick - followed in the intervening 20 years, but it's only since the trail-blazing efforts of Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh that lady riders have really entered the mainstream. Cheltenham's marquee amateur race has been won by a lady rider in 5 of the last 10 renewals, showing us able riders of the calibre of Nina, Bryony Frost - another product of the West Country circuit - Harriet Tucker and Maxine O'Sullivan.
The reality of life for any jockey nowadays - irrespective of gender - is that it's connections that win you the entrée to the exclusive club where you can obtain rides. And more often than not, it's family that gets youngsters started. Yes, there are trainers like Paul Nicholls and Neil King well disposed toward giving girls a leg up, but growing up in a racing family gives any aspiring professional the best chance of getting noticed and earning the right to a career in the sport. In the UK at least, it's difficult to believe we're yet nurturing a talent like Rachael Blackmore, capable of rising to the very top of the riding ranks.
So if you're a budding trainer, spare a thought for gender equality. Lady riders compete on level terms with men in equestrianism, and the only thing stopping them doing the same over the sticks is the choice of rider made by trainers an