Women In The Kentucky Derby Lineup Are Few & Far Between, But The 6 In History Were Pioneers

At this year’s Kentucky Derby, a woman doesn’t stand a chance at winning the crown. That’s because there are exactly zero female jockeys in the Kentucky Derby lineup. While this might be surprising, in this sport it’s pretty much the norm — only 10 percent of horse racers are females. But just because women didn’t make the roster this year doesn’t mean they should be left out of all the race talk. The Kentucky Derby’s history might not include many women, but the six it does are pretty kickass.

The sport of horseback riding first saw a female jockey 45 years ago. In 1970, Diane Crump became the first ever woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby, placing 15th on her horse, Fathom. Since Crump, the Kentucky Derby has seen five other women race: Patricia “P.J.” Cooksey in 1984, Andrea Seefeldt in 1991, Julie Krone in 1992 and 1995, Rosemary Homeister Jr. in 2003, and, most recently, Rosie Napravnik in 2011, 2013, and 2014.

However, despite the fact that six women have competed in the Derby, no woman has ever taken home the crown. Napravnik came the closest ever in 2013, snagging 5th place. Through the years, women’s places have generally trended upward, but their presence in the heavily male-dominated sport has not followed suit. While Napravnik arguably made the biggest splash — becoming the first woman ever to win the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Oaks and earning the fifth-highest amount of all horse jockeys in North America — she announced her retirement last November at age 27.

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While many are holding out for Napravnik to return to the sport, the real question is when more women will join Napravnik in the sport. As U-T San Diego pointed out, plenty of young girls ride horses from an early age. However, as the sport becomes more competitive and jockeys begin to mature, women seem to drop out of the ranks.

As Camilla Swift writes in The Telegraph, men and women participate on an equal playing field in just about every horseback sport, from polo to showjumping — with the exception of racing. You could argue that professional horseback racing requires a high degree of stamina — but jockeys like Napravnik, who smashed the women's record with her fifth place in 2013, prove that woman jockeys, given the opportunity, are likely to be just as capable as their male counterparts.

Due to the low percentage of women in the game, there may be a perception from owners and trainers that, as Cadman argues, women are simply less suited to the sport — which could make it more difficult for them to gain a footing in the sport. This is the case argued by apprentice jockey Charlotte Jenner, who told the BBC, "Other owners and trainers don't think women are as strong as men, but we can prove to be as strong and more aggressive."

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While female jockeys might not have the chance to prove themselves in this year’s Kentucky Derby, sadly, these six pioneers have shown that women will keep on riding until they do.

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