LIZZIE Kelly, 25, is a jockey and lives in Devon with her fiancé Ed, 29, a bloodstock assistant.
Here, the two-time Grade 1-winning jockey details her determination to win the Grand National – but admits no matter where she places, it’ll still be a win for women.
Lizzie Kelly says she wants to be the first woman to win the Grand National next week[/caption]
“As I crossed the finish line, blood pounded in my ears. I’d given the race everything, and as I looked up at myself on the big TV screen at Kempton Park Racecourse, it felt so surreal. I’d just made history as the first woman to win a Grade One race in Britain – the highest stakes race possible – and it changed my life forever.
“I was just two when I started riding horses. My mum Jane, 56, and stepdad Nick, 63, owned a stable yard in Devon, where I grew up along with my five siblings. From the moment I laid eyes on my first racehorse in our yard, I was obsessed. By the time I started secondary school in 2004, I was getting up at 6am every day to ride before school and it was the first thing I did once I got home.
“It was more than just a hobby. By 16 I’d started entering amateur races at the weekend, often coming home with first prizes. There were always just as many girls as boys competing, but as I looked into becoming a pro, I realised few women took that next step in their riding career. I didn’t let it put me off as I knew I was good enough to compete against men, but it was frustrating when family and friends would laugh at my dream of being a professional jockey, while they encouraged my brother Chester, now 21, to go for it.
“Despite my determination, I wanted a plan B, so in September 2011 I went to the University of Winchester to study events management. It was a long way from home, but the area had great racetracks so I could keep training.
Lizzie Kelly, 25, won at Cheltenham last month and says seeing the earnings go into her bank is amazing[/caption]
“While my student mates partied, I was getting up at 5am to ride every day. At 5ft 8in and 12st, I didn’t have the advantage of being naturally light – most male jockeys are under 5ft 6in and weigh about 8st – so I decided to give up alcohol, sugar and carbs, and I lost 2st.
“After graduating in June 2014, I knew that the hardest part of my career would be finding owners who’d let a woman ride their horses. I was sure that once they saw me race they’d accept I was an excellent rider, but some weren’t even willing to give me a chance.
“It was impossible not to take it personally, but it also motivated me to be the best. Thankfully, later that year my stepdad found some owners willing to let me ride.
“Rather than a proper wage, I’d get £150 per race and a percentage of prize money, which would often be over £2,000 if I got first place. I quickly proved my worth, winning race after race.
Lizzie, 25, with her fiance Ed, 29, who’s a bloodstock assistant[/caption]
“However, I was desperate to enter a big race, such as Cheltenham or the Grand National. As a child, I’d watched those races and remember finding it strange that there were so few women jockeys. I achieved my dream on Boxing Day 2015, when I was offered a place at Kempton Park – and won the race.
“The look on Mum’s face afterwards said it all: I’d done something no other female jockey had. A year later, I got a place in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham Festival – the holy grail of courses. However, I fell at the second hurdle, which was devastating.
“Although it was a blow to my confidence, it wasn’t going to let it beat me and a year later, I earned another shot at Cheltenham, in the Ultima Handicap Chase race. By then I’d met my fiancé Ed, who also works in horse racing. We instantly clicked, because he understood and loved the lifestyle as much as I did.
“Although I’d always get dressed in the female changing rooms, I had to be weighed in the male ones and as I strode into that room in March 2018, I was head and shoulders above the other jockeys. I was filled with nerves, but I refused to show it – I had every right to be there and they treated me with respect.
Lizzie says no matter where she places at the Grand National, it’ll still be a win for women regardless[/caption]
MOST READ IN FABULOUS
“They knew I wanted to win the race just as much as them. And I did win. I became the first woman ever to get first place at the meeting and as soon as I was off my horse, I couldn’t stop crying.
“I’ve since won another race at Cheltenham – just last month – and have been lucky to earn enough in prize money to buy a “house. Seeing my earnings go into my bank account is amazing, but being so busy riding means there’s little time to let my hair down and enjoy it.
“Next week, I’m riding in the Grand National for the first time and I must admit I’m a little scared, but also excited. Since women were first allowed to compete in the prestigious race in 1977, only 16 have entered.
“All I can do is give it everything I have. No matter where I place, it will still be a win for women.”
- Watch The Randox Health Grand National Festival, April 4-6, ITV
- Only 11% of pro jockey licences are held by women.*
- 51% of stable staff jobs across Britain are taken by women.*
- Lizzie is an ambassador for Great British Racing’s Jockey Fit programme.
Source: *University of Liverpool
For more information, visit Greatbritishracing.com