The Kentucky Derby’s First Fifty Years: Women Jockeys Continue the Fight

Before Diane Crump started riding horses professionally, other women did. Kathy Kusner was one of these pioneers. It was Kusner’s action that paved the way for Crump to come on board. In 1968, she dared to sue the Maryland Racing commission under the provisions of the US Civil Rights Act. She was given the license to become a Jockey. She had an accident and couldn’t contest for a while but her success in court inspired Crump to get her license.

There was no restriction on betting though. Female riders were having a hard time getting into the fields but gamblers were allowed to place bets on horses irrespective of their gender. People placed bets to date with various bookmakers like Sportsbet irrespective of their gender. But even today, female jockeys still have a hard time on their chosen career mostly because of their gender.  

Crump got her license but track officials and even fellow horsemen gave her a hard time. They tried to block her and other females from riding in a race. At that time, there were not many female riders and it was a stifling process trying to compete with people that refused to accept her. On February 7th, 1969, her first race at Hialeah Race Track in Miami, she came with Police Escort to avoid any physical harassment. It was the highlight of the day as many American horse racing related magazines and the newspaper had the story in their front cover.

Crump won the first race of the Derby day card.  She didn’t win major races, she was in 15th place, but that was the highlight of her career. She went on to compete in other races. And has about 281 wins to her name. It has been exactly 50 years since then and women Jockeys are still fighting for a place in American Horse Race.  

A good example is the membership of the Jockey Guide. Jockey Guide is an association that represents over 90 percent of North America Jockeys. This organization currently has 994 members. Women Jockeys are only 8% of this number. Almost 1000 members and just 81 are female. This clearly shows the under representation of female jockeys. There are so many female Jockeys now doing great as they ride on horses but are not getting good ranking for their achievements.

Some female Jockeys believe that many of them are not there yet because there are people that are better than them. Julie Krone and Rosie Napravnik, two leading female Jockeys in the United State also believe this.  Krone thinks that women are not there, yet, in terms of women doing what [she and Napravnik] did. Maybe we’ll get there again. She doesn’t think that misogynism and prejudice are the only reasons why women are not leading in this sport. Be a really good Jockey and understand horsemanship, be Lucky, and having the right trainer who believes in you, then there will be opportunities. 

When asked by Bill Christine, a journalist for Los Angeles Times in 1989, to assess the progress of women as Jockeys, Crump’s reply was, It’s been 20 years and we haven’t broken that barrier, have we? It might take 50 to break the barrier.” It is 50 years already and her answer is almost the same, “We haven’t totally broken it, yet, have we?” There is, however, hope that the Horse Racing Circles will accept more and more women who have a passion for riding horses professionally and if the industry is too stiff, they’ll look up to their predecessors and break walls that stand in their way.