Long road from Eliogarty to Frodon as women rise to the occasion
Bryony Frost, Rachael Blackmore and Lizzie Kelly have ensured the tally of races won by women riding as professionals at the Festival has quadrupled in the last 48 hours, with Frost's success aboard Frodon the biggest Cheltenham prize won by a female jockey to date.
It is 36 years since Caroline Beasley steered Eliogarty into history when landing the Foxhunter, becoming the first woman to win a race at jump racing's biggest festival.
Four years later Gee Armytage broke another important barrier when winning what is now the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – a first festival success against the professionals – and followed it up with a win in the Kim Muir to finish the week with two victories.
But for many years the races restricted to the unpaid ranks – and especially the Foxhunter – were where women shone, winning what is often called the 'Amateurs' Gold Cup' on eight occasions, including each of the last four years.
By the numbers
15 Number of women to ride a Cheltenham Festival winner
26 Number of races won at the festival by women
7 Nina Carberry's record number of festival wins
Two star Irish amateurs from famous families, Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh, did plenty to change attitudes among owners and trainers, proving themselves the equal of their male rivals.
Between her first success with Dabiroun in the 2005 Fred Winter and a 2016 double thanks to Josies Orders and On The Fringe, Carberry racked up a record seven festival victories.
Walsh also capped a double in 2010 when partnering Poker De Sivola and County Hurdle hero Thousand Stars to success.
And at what would be her final Cheltenham as a jockey, Walsh broke the Grade 1 barrier for women when surging to success on Relegate in the 2018 Bumper.
Both Walsh and Carberry chose to retain amateur status throughout their careers but their example has done much to pave the way for a generation of women who aimed to make a career from race-riding.
Last year was also a landmark as conditional Lizzie Kelly became the first woman to win as a professional, thanks to Coo Star Sivola's victory in the Ultima Handicap, a success she added to on Thursday with Sirruh Du Lac in the Plate.
Less than two hours earlier Frost had become the first Grade 1-winning woman over obstacles at the festival in partnership with Frodon, adding to a Foxhunter success in 2017 before turning pro.
Blackmore opened her Cheltenham account here on Tuesday thanks to A Plus Tard and, if you want a demonstration of the opportunities that she, Frost and Kelly have earned for themselves, consider this: their three winners were sent off at 5-1, 9-2 and 9-2 during the most competitive week of the jumps racing calendar.
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