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Girl Power: Famous female jockeys who have contested the Grand National

With the 2016 Grand National just around the corner, we take a look at girl power and some of the famous female jockeys who have contested the world's most famous race.

The Grand National is a gruelling test for horses and jockeys alike, and although predominantly a race for the male riders there have been a fair smattering of the fairer sex taking the reins in the big Aintree spectacular.

Although heavily outnumbered by their male counterparts when it comes to rides in the race, it is surely only a matter of time before the ladies chalk up a first success in the big race. Here, we take a look at some of the most famous leading ladies to have tackled Aintree’s fearsome fences in the Grand National.

Charlotte Brew

Charlotte Brew was the name on everyone’s lips all the way back in 1977 as the pilot of her own horse Barony Fort in the big race. She became the first female jockey to take up a ride in the race, and had qualified to take her chance after the horse had finished fourth in the Fox Hunters Chase, also at Aintree.

A regular rider in point-to-point events, Charlotte had been given the horse on her 18th birthday by her parents, and the pair set out as 2001 no-hopers. While the duo were never going to upset the immortal Red Rum, who won his third Grand National on this year, they did enjoy a good spin around Aintree’s fences, before Barony Fort cried enough and refused to jump the fourth last.

Charlotte returned several years later to try again, this time on a horse called Martinstown, but the pair got no further than the third fence.

Geraldine Rees

Although Charlotte Brew had the distinction of being the first woman to ride in the Grand National, Geraldine Rees can claim the accolade of being the first woman to complete the course.

She did so aboard the 66/1 rag, Cheers in the 1982 Grand National, whom she rode into eighth place – the last of the finishers in the race won by Grittar, with fellow female pilot Charlotte Brew only reaching the third fence.

However, Geraldine was supposed to have ridden Gordon’s Lad instead, but that horse went lame soon before the race and was withdrawn. Not to be denied her shot at history though, she made a failed bid to buy a Grand National entry at auction only to be foiled by a superior bid.

Ironically, those who had outbid Geraldine turned out to have bought Cheers, and having heard of her determination to ride in the Grand National, and with the owners not having already booked a jockey they handed Geraldine the ride aboard their horse.

Cheers ran well in the race, although the pair did almost come to grief at the third – the same fence that claimed Charlotte Brew and Martinstown – but after they plotted their way round, and although finishing a well-beaten and tired eighth – and last finisher – having stopped to a near-walk on the run-in, another chapter in Grand National history was written.

Geraldine returned to the Grand National the following year to partner another horse, the 500/1 outsider Midday Welcome, but the duo exited the race at the first fence, and Geraldine retired from the saddle soon after to concentrate on a training career.

Gee Armytage

Gee Armytage was the darling of the UK racing scene during her time in the saddle. With dazzling looks, the blonde bombshell could have graced the catwalk but elected instead for the saddle where she became one of the most well-known and talented female riders around.

Having twice won at the Cheltenham Festival, Gee partnered the aptly-monickered Gee-A in the 1988 renewal of the Grand National. The pair performed with plenty of credit, and they were still travelling well in the race before Gee was forced to pull Gee-A up after the horse strained muscles in her back jumping the 25th fence.

Injuries prevented Gee from taking up more rides in the Grand National, and she eventually retired from the saddle.

Venetia Williams

More famous for training winners than riding them, Venetia Williams was a little-known amateur jockey who rode Marcolo in the 1988 Grand National; however, the pair only got to the sixth fence – Becher’s Brook – where they fell, causing Venetia to lose consciousness.

A fall later at Worcester saw Venetia break her neck, and she gave up race-riding to concentrate on training where she learnt the ropes from some of the biggest names around including Barry Hills and Martin Pipe, and spent some time in Australia with Colin Hayes before striking out on her own in 1995.

Venetia Williams had a ride in the 1988 Grand National, but only got as far as the sixth fence. She later trained Mon Mome to win the race in 2009. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Although she couldn’t ride the winner of the Grand National, Venetia has trained a winner of the Aintree spectacle with Mon Mome, who won the race in 2009 as a 100/1 outsider under Liam Treadwell, making her only the second female trainer of a National winner after Jenny Pitman.

Rosemary Henderson

Dubbed ‘the galloping granny’ by the UK media, Rosemary Henderson owned, trained and rode Fiddlers Pike in the Grand National in 1994 at the age of 51.

Sent off 100/1, the pair went on to exceed expectations and perhaps raise the bar for women jockeys to follow by guiding her 13-year-old charge into fifth place behind Miinehoma.

Nina Carberry

Perhaps the most famous name amongst the female jockey ranks, at least over the sticks, Nina Carberry – younger sister of jockey Paul – took her first ride in the Grand National in 2006 when partnering Richard Ford's 33/1 shot, Forest Gunner, to ninth place – the last of the finishers behind Numbersixvalverde.

Nina Carberry, brother of Paul, has completed the National course on three occasions. (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)

Without a ride in the race in following years, Nina returned to the Grand National stage in 2010 where  she again completed the course, this time aboard Character Building, with the pair finishing in seventh.

The duo had another crack at the big race again in 2011, again completing the course in 15th place behind Don’t Push It, but her record of completed starts was halted in 2012 when she was unseated at the eighth fence from Organisedconfusion. Without a ride in the National in either 2013 or 2014, Nina Carberry returned to the big stage when partnering First Lieutenant in the 2015 renewal, with the pair completing the course in 16th place.

Unfortunately for her fans, Carberry picked up a suspension during the Cheltenham and as a result she will miss the Aintree festival in 2016.

Katie Walsh

Sister of Ruby Walsh, Katie Walsh – like Nina Carberry – is an instantly recognisable name amongst the female jockey ranks and took her first steps onto the Grand National stage aboard Seabass in 2012.

The pair achieved the highest finishing placing for a female-ridden Grand National entrant, finishing third behind Neptune Collonges, beaten just over five lengths at the line having led the field on the run-in but was headed approaching the elbow.

Katie Walsh is the highest placed female rider in Grand National history, finishing third in 2012 aboard Seabass. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

The pair tried again in 2013, but couldn’t replicate the feat in the softer ground, finishing 13th behind Aurora’s Encore - trained by Sue Smith - and beaten around ninety lengths. Since then Walsh has partnered Willie Mullins' Vesper Bell to 13th in the 2014 renewal, won by Pineau De Re, but she didn't have a ride in the 2015 renewal

The 2016 Grand National could see Walsh pick up another ride in the big race, while up-and-coming Lizzie Kelly - the first female jockey to ride a Grade One winner - could also be in line to make her Grand National debut.

Countdown to Grand National

The 2018 Grand National takes place on Saturday 14th April and we'll have live coverage of the meeting on here and on Twitter.

Join millions of fans preparing to celebrate the build up to the world's most famous race - the Aintree Grand National.

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Girl Power: Famous female jockeys who have contested the Grand National

With the 2017 Grand National just around the corner, we take a look at girl power and some of the famous female jockeys who have contested the world's most famous race

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