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'People laughed if I said I wanted to be a jockey': Lizzie Kelly wins on trailblazing day for women at Cheltenham

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 5 days ago Tom Morgan
a horse wearing a hat: Lizzie Kelly celebrates on Siruh Du Lac after winning the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase Action © Reuters Lizzie Kelly celebrates on Siruh Du Lac after winning the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase Action

They sniggered when a schoolgirl called Lizzie Kelly announced her ambition to be a professional jockey. Yesterday those doubters came joyfully to mind for the 26-year-old as she held aloft her trophy in the winners' enclosure on an historic day for women in racing.

Her success on Siruh Du Lac in the G3 £110,000 Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase came less than an hour after Bryony Frost's heroics in the Ryanair Chase. With Rachael Blackmore set for a record-smashing 17 rides, it has been another Festival of trailblazing for the women on horseback.

Horse Racing - Cheltenham Festival - Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Britain - March 14, 2019   Lizzie Kelly celebrates with Siruh Du Lac after winning the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase   REUTERS/Eddie Keogh © Thomson Reuters Horse Racing - Cheltenham Festival - Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Britain - March 14, 2019 Lizzie Kelly celebrates with Siruh Du Lac after winning the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase REUTERS/Eddie Keogh Kelly, who is based in Devon, produced a bold, front-running ride on six-year-old Siruh Du Lac, who is trained by her stepfather Nick Williams. "I grew up with people laughing at me when I said I wanted to be a jockey," said Kelly, who was screaming with joy earlier at her triumph. "That gives you a chip on your shoulder and you've got something to prove."

Horse Racing - Cheltenham Festival - Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Britain - March 14, 2019   Siruh Du Lac ridden by Lizzie Kelly (R) in action during the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase   REUTERS/Eddie Keogh © Thomson Reuters Horse Racing - Cheltenham Festival - Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Britain - March 14, 2019 Siruh Du Lac ridden by Lizzie Kelly (R) in action during the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Cheltenham and racing are way ahead of other sports when it comes to equality between the sexes. Numbers of women winners have risen steadily since the first winner, Caroline Beasley, on Eliogarty in the St James' Palace Foxhunter Chase in 1983. There were two winners in 1987, both ridden by Gee Armytage, three winners in 2017, and a record four winners in 2018.

As far as Kelly is concerned, the sport is now a completely level playing field for men and women. "The fact that we've come so far in a relatively short period is massive," she added. "On a day-to-day basis, I think we are getting the same amount of opportunities now and I think girls slightly have an advantage in that you can do the low weights too, so that's a good thing."

Horse Racing - Cheltenham Festival - Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Britain - March 14, 2019   Lizzie Kelly celebrates on Siruh Du Lac after winning the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase   REUTERS/Eddie Keogh © Thomson Reuters Horse Racing - Cheltenham Festival - Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Britain - March 14, 2019 Lizzie Kelly celebrates on Siruh Du Lac after winning the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase REUTERS/Eddie Keogh There has been a separate weighing room for some years at Cheltenham and it is now regularly in full use. Women previously had to get changed in a broom cupboard, "We love being together," she said. "For the first time in my career, I've been race-riding for 10 years, started point to pointing at 16, but in the last three or four years there is an actual group of us in - there's a mini weighing room now - rather than an add-on... Now there are so many you sometimes don't need to go in to get your hat tied because you are there chatting to the girls. Boys don't want to talk about nail polish or is leopard-skin in this year, they don't want to talk about that. It's nice to have the girls."

Kelly finds it particularly moving that she is inspiring young girls to get on horseback. "That gets you," she said. "When you have got a small girl that comes up and says 'you're my favourite jockey' - the fact they even know me is mind-boggling."

Cheltenham , United Kingdom - 14 March 2019; A view of runners and riders on the first time round including eventual winner Siruh Du Lac, with Lizzie Kelly up, right, and faller King's Odyssey, with Adam Wedge up, the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase on Day Three of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images) © SPORTSFILE Cheltenham , United Kingdom - 14 March 2019; A view of runners and riders on the first time round including eventual winner Siruh Du Lac, with Lizzie Kelly up, right, and faller King's Odyssey, with Adam Wedge up, the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase on Day Three of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images) Kelly said Blackmore, the Irishwoman who rides in the Gold Cup today, is the "idol we should all have". "Girls have a tendency to be jealous, and I think it's really important for everyone, every girl - I'm not saying any of us are jealous - but I'm just saying that you must appreciate what she is doing for the sport," she said.

A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to support the breakthrough by women ensures there could one day be a 50/50 split in winners. The British Horseracing Authority set up  a diversity In racing steering group in 2017, which last year published a series of recommendations.

Lizzie Kelly with trainer Nick Williams following victory in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase on board Siruh Du Lac during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. (Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images Lizzie Kelly with trainer Nick Williams following victory in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase on board Siruh Du Lac during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. (Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images) Nick Rust, CEO of the BHA, told Telegraph Sport that the women's success at Cheltenham is "helps spread the message that female jockeys are just as good as the men". "I think we’re near the stage now where we can stop referring to them as female jockeys – they are just jockeys, plain and simple," he said.

A spokesman for the Jockey Club added: "As we've seen this week and for many years now, a jockey's gender is not important."

For Kelly, it is now time for other sports to take note. "I think racing needs to shout about what we do more," said. "Equal prize money, equal riding fee. That is rare in elite sport... It's shocking to think that until recently that a Wimbledon champion that was female got less prize money than the Wimbledon champion that was men. That is nuts. We've got a lot to shout about and I think we're doing a good job of it."

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