In 1971 the Jockey Club reluctantly took the decision to allow women jockeys to race on British race courses.
The Club approved a series of amateur, all women races on the flat as a result of a female riders campaign started by Mrs. Judy Goodhew, of Longfield in Kent.
Hayley Turner, born in 1983, was the first British woman to have a successful career as a professional jockey. Part of her achievement was to become, in 2008, the first woman to ride one hundred UK Flat race winners during a single year. She retired from professional horse racing in 2015.
However, many years previously, a notorious woman named Alicia Meynell scandalised the racing fraternity when she competed, for money, against male riders with large amounts of gambling on the outcome of her race.
Alicia was known at the time as Mrs Thornton because she lived with a Colonel Thornton even though he was inconveniently married to someone else. The colonel, although renowned as a sportsman of the hunting-shooting-fishing variety, had lost much of his fortune and sought to recover some of his money by betting on Alicia’s success in the race.
Unfortunately, Alicia lost her first race of four miles against her brother-in-law, Captain William Flint, at the Knavesmire in York in 1804. The stakes were a thousand guineas and it was reported that over £200,000 was gambled on the outcome of the race although this has probably been exaggerated with the passing of time!
The twenty two year old Alicia rode side-saddle and wore a leopard coloured dress with blue sleeves and a blue cap. She was in the lead for most of the race but was overtaken by the Captain three quarters of the way round the course.
The following year Alicia tried again, this time with more success. In the first race her opponent, Mr Bromford, withdrew from the race at short notice so all the winnings were given to Alicia and Colonel Thornton.
The second race was against Frank Buckle, the top jockey of his day who in a fifty year career won the Derby five times, the Oaks nine times and the St Leger twice. He retired in 1831 and in 1805 was at the peak of his career.
Alicia weighed in at 9st 6lbs against Frank’s 13st 6lbs. She again rode side-saddle and this time wore cap, waistcoat and shoes in purple, a yellow skirt and embroidered stockings.
Right from the start Alicia took the lead and despite several attempts by Buckle she held on, riding to a win amid great appreciation of her horsemanship.
Alicia never raced again and appears to have separated from Colonel Thornton who continued to engage in disputes with the brother-in-law, Captain Flint. Flint spent time in the debtors’ prison and Thornton sold up his property and re-branded himself as the Prince de Chambord going off to live in France. Flint died in York of prussic acid poisoning which he was using to self-medicate for an asthma attack. And, according to History and other thoughts, Alicia eloped with a soldier in 1806 and was never heard of again.
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