Is horse racing a sport in which equality is easier to achieve than many other sports? After all, there are far more famous women associated with the gee gees than with the likes of darts or football. Indeed, when a woman succeeds in either of those sports their success is immediately noteworthy and earns a large number of newspaper headlines.
That’s not to say that women don’t struggle for the same level of recognition as many, of course. We know it isn’t easy for female jockeys, for example, with their physical differences from men a part of the perceived problem. Isn’t it slightly different for trainers, though? There is no real physical part to the job, meaning that women have enjoyed as much success as their male counterparts.
Women Can Train Horses Just As Good As Men
The actual job of training a horse isn’t something that requires someone to have skills that one gender has but the other lacks. The head trainer at a stables will be responsible for running the place, managing their staff and ensuring that a horse’s training schedule is such that they can be successfully prepared for the race that they’re supposed to be running in.
Trainers are also responsible for the welfare of the horse’s under their control, working around 45 hours every week for a wage of somewhere between £15,000 and £45,000 per year. Obviously the more successful a trainer is, the more money they will earn. This is both thanks to the increased prize money they’ll receive and the fact that more people will want them to train their horses.
If someone wishes to become a trainer than they will need to gain a minimum of five years’ experience working in yards. They’ll also need to take a pre-licence course and pass it before applying to the British Horseracing Authority for a licence. Trainers need to monitor a horse’s progress and development, creating training and exercising routines for them; it’s not a simple job.
The Best Female Trainers
All of the women on our list will have already been through all of that, working in yards and stables in order to have the hours necessary for the BHA to issue them with a licence to train horses. The more that they learn, the more successful their horses are going to be and the more successful their horses are the more owners are going to want them to train their horses.
Here’s a look at the most successful female trainers, as well as some of those that are only just getting started in the industry but have long careers ahead of them.
Arguably the most famous female trainer working in the industry right now, Jessica Fowler was born on the 12th of February 1947 in London. She soon moved to Ireland, where her father was from, not returning to England until she was 12 when she attended Hatherop School. She later went on to marry the bloodstock agent Johnny Harrington, hence her name.
She actually began her life working with horses as a jockey, quickly earning a reputation in Ireland as being one of the best at three-day events. She applied for and received her licence as a trainer in 1989 and since then has mainly worked in the National Hunt arena. That’s not to say that she’s never enjoyed any success on the flat, of course.
It didn’t take Harrington long to begin to add victories at famous meetings to her name, becoming well-known thanks to success in various races at the Cheltenham Festival. The best-known of these occurred in 2017 when she saw Sizing John win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. After that came a win in the Irish Grand National for Our Duke, cementing her place in the record books.
Edinburgh born Lucinda Russell came into this world on the 24th of June 1966. She has always been involved in racing, which is how she met the man that would later become her husband, Peter Scudamore. Based in Kinross, the paid run Arlary House Stables together and the success has been incredible; in fact, they have seen more winners than any other Scottish yard ever.
In 2013 the Russell trained Brindisi Breeze lit up the Cheltenham Festival, winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. That handed Russell her first win at the meeting, but just a couple of months later the horse escaped its paddock and was killed on a nearby road. If that tragedy wasn’t enough, the young jockey riding him to victory later jumped into a swimming pool whilst drunk in Greece and died.
Perhaps it was these incredibly sad events that spurred Russell on to achieve success in the years that followed. Success certainly did come, though, including earning around £200,000 in 2019. The pinnacle of Lucinda’s Russell’s training career may be yet to come, but the 2017 win for One For Arthur in the Grand National will ensure that she’s always remembered, coming a year before she was given an OBE by the Queen.
Venetia Williams is perhaps one of the most well-travelled trainers on this list, earning the experience that she needed to gain her training licence in countries such as France, Australia and the United States of America. She was an amateur jockey at the beginning of her racing career, taking part in the Grand National in 1988. It was a race that would come to love as a trainer.
That’s thanks to the 2009 victory in the Aintree race for her offering Mon Mome, who went off with a price of 100/1. It meant that Williams was just the second female trainer to win the National after Jenny Pitman. Her riding career had ended in the same year that she ran in the ‘World’s Greatest Steeplechase’ when she broke her neck at Worcester Racecourse.
That allowed to focus fully on the training, working with the likes of Martin Pipe and Barry Hills to learn the ropes. Having been born in Cornwall in 1960, Williams trains horses that tend to prefer soft ground. She has had a licence since 1995 and three years later won both the Hennessey Gold Cup and the King George VI Chase with Teeton Mill, proving her worth.
Eve Johnson Houghton
If you recognise the name of Johnson Houghton but aren’t totally sure where from, it’s probably because of Richard Fulke Johnson Houghton, who trained more than 1,000 winners. These included two in the St. Leger, which is probably where his daughter gets it from. She took over from him at his yard and has made a name for herself in a short space of time.
Eve Johnson Houghton won the Ascot Diamond as a jockey before deciding that she’d be better placed to learn the training trade from her father. She began to do so in 2010 and passed every year that followed that decision by training at least 20 winners on the flat. Not exactly the same sort of prolific pace that her dad managed, but more than good enough.
She’s becoming known as one of the best young female trainers in the industry, laying the foundations for a career that will almost certainly be full of many highs and notable moments. Will she eventually take over her father’s number of winners? It’s impossible to tell, but it does look as though the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to the Johnson Houghton’s and horse racing success.
It’s fair to say that Rebecca Curtis has worked hard to earn a reputation for herself as a fearless trainer who produces results. She gained her licence in 2007 and began working on making sure that she was associated with success. By the conclusion of her fourth season as a trainer she’d achieved more 100 victories in the field.
That’s the sort of figure that catches the eye of others in the racing world, so she soon became much-admired. It was JP McManus that made the first move to stop anyone else from snapping her up, bringing her in as a trainer for his horses. He was rewarded with immediate success, with At Fishers Cross winning at both Aintree and the Cheltenham Festival in 2013.
Jump racing is where Curtis’ true talent lies, with her lowest win rate as a trainer over the four years from 2015 coming in National Hunt flat races. Having started life in the horse racing industry working with Peter Bowen, she soon notched up a 15% win ratio and by the suspension of racing at the start of 2020 had earned more than £1.1 million in prize money.
Born in Australia, Jane Chapple-Hyam came to the United Kingdom to complete a stud management course when she was 17. The course was at Newmarket and she fell in love with the area, which would become relevant later in her life. She went on to marry the successful trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam, which is where she gets her name from, though the pair later separated.
She was 38-years-old when she gained her training licence in 2005 and immediately laid down plans to open a stable in the area of Newmarket that she was so enamoured with. Having already gained experience working as a trainer in Australia, she was able to get a licence from the BHA and soon achieved her ambition of opening that stable.
In many ways Chapple-Hyam is the archetypal example of a female trainer who is more than good enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts. Her talent as a trainer saw 46% of the horses that she trained finishing in the top four places, proving that point easily. A 10% win ratio is also more than respectable in a tricky industry.
Emma Lavelle has been training horses officially since she was 25-years-old. She was initially based in Hampshire, gaining some modest success. This included 19 wins, but soon her and her husband Barry decided to up sticks and move to the Bonita Racing Stables near Marlborough. They couldn’t resist the chance to work at such a prestigious stables.
It was a move that immediately paid off for her, seeing the number of winners coming in under her name jump from those 19 to 35. This was in spite of the fact that she said it had been a ‘building year’ for the pair. Once the building was out of the way, though, they were able to get down to the real business of training the horses under their control.
The move to Marlborough was a sensible one, but she’d already racked up some success. Crack Away Jack won the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle and Pause And Clause landed the Martin Pipe Conditionals’ Hurdle in 2008 and 2009 respectively, whilst Paisley Park impressed when winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019.
The last name on the list is also one of the ones that has been working as a trainer for the shortest amount of time. That’s all relative, of course, but she only gained her licence to do so in 2007. Soon she brought her husband Christian into the fold as an assistant, woking with her in the yard. His experienced as a handicapper for the British Horse Racing Authority paying dividends.
The inside knowledge about why the BHA handicappers give certain horses more weight to carry than others is the kind of information that most horse racing trainers would kill for, so it’s little surprise that Sophie Leech and her husband soon began to make quite a formidable pair when it came to training winner after winner.
Leech herself had started life in the world of Point-to-Point racing before moving on to run a satellite yard for Milton Harris. Two years later she applied for her own licence when based in Oxfordshire. After that she moved to Gloucestershire, the county that is home to Cheltenham Racecourse, and she has remained there ever since.