It's too early to say who will win the 2017 Kentucky Derby — although the odds are it will be the favorite. That's what happened the last four years. The only problem then is deciding just who that favorite is. This year, there are a number of contenders, all of whom have one thing in common, at least thus far: Their jockey is a man. There's still a few positions pending, but in spite of the inclusion of women jockeys in past Kentucky Derbies, this year, all the jockeys are men. Has a woman ever won the Kentucky Derby, then? Not yet.
This year, it doesn't look likely that that fact will change. Jockeys are chosen by the horse's trainer, and this year all the trainers are also men. Thus, for the time being, the record will go unchallenged. There's a long, if limited history of women participating in the derby. According to the derby's own webpage, women first became involved in the race in 1904, but that was when Laska Durnell nominated her husband's horse to compete. She didn't race him herself. The derby also notes that by the 1940s, women owners were already common. In 1942, seven of the top eight horses were owned by women.
That early involvement by women in the sport didn't initially transfer to jockeying, though. The first female jockey was Diane Crump, who competed in 1970. She came in 15th place that year on Fathom. This was one of many firsts for women that Crump achieved in the world of horse racing. She was the first to compete in any race with men and was the first to woman to win a stakes. Crump continued as a jockey for 15 years, finally retiring in 1985.
Over the years, there have just been six total women jockeys who have competed. Just 10 percent of all jockeys are women. The closest any woman has ever come to winning was in 2013 when Rosie Napravnik came in fifth place. She tried again in 2014. And while she never won the Kentucky Derby, Napravnik did win the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. In 2015, she retired from the sport at the age of 27. Neither in 2015 nor in 2016 were there female jockeys in the race.
This year, it doesn't appear there will be another contender, either. But despite the lack of movement on the issue in the Kentucky Derby, there are women involved in horse racing, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, that could easily make this happen sooner rather than later.