She’s in it to win it

Katie Walsh tells Laura Sil­ver­man what it’s like to be the most suc­cess­ful fe­male jockey in Grand Na­tional his­tory – and why rac­ing will al­ways be dom­i­nated by men

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Lifestyle -

You can’t miss Green­hills sta­bles in County Kil­dare, Ire­land. Guard­ing the drive is a statue of a jockey in a yel­low and green jer­sey, the Wal­shes’ rac­ing colours. The ca­sual vis­i­tor to the home of Ted Walsh, the am­a­teur jockey turned race­horse trainer, will meet dozens of horses be­fore they even get to the yard: from a horse on wheels in the kitchen (a favourite toy of Ted and He­len’s grand­chil­dren); to a paint­ing of Ruby, their el­dest son, on Papil­lon, in the lounge (af­ter horse and rider won the Grand Na­tional in 2000). The en­tire Walsh fam­ily live and breathe rac­ing. I am spend­ing the day with Katie Walsh, Ruby’s younger sis­ter and the most suc­cess­ful fe­male jockey in Grand Na­tional his­tory. Katie and Seabass came third at Ain­tree in 2012. This year she has been ap­pointed “style am­bas­sador” to the Na­tional to add a bit of class to the event. Women are be­ing en­cour­aged to dress up on Ladies’ Day in a style more in line with As­cot (wear­ing ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive, and oc­ca­sion­ally ridicu­lous, hats) than drunken WAGs in short skirts and one shoe. While rac­ing folk might be more used to see­ing her in jodh­purs or spat­tered in mud (in the Spencer Mur­phy pos­trace por­trait that won the Tay­lor Wess­ing prize), Walsh, 30, in­sists she loves fash­ion. “Oh yeah, I’m big into it,” she says, swad­dled in a bub­blegum-pink puffer jacket. “It’s very im­por­tant for me to work in the yard ev­ery day and be fem­i­nine when I come in. I’ve got a lot of friends who I like go­ing out with for a few drinks. If they came here and we were go­ing out, you wouldn’t say that I’m the one who worked with horses.” But things are not quite so straight­for­ward on the course. The Grand Na­tional has only al­lowed women rid­ers since 1977 and there are still far more male than fe­male jock­eys. Walsh may not have been put off from rac­ing be­cause she’s a woman, but cer­tain com­ments sug­gest gen­der plays a part in op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male rid­ers and their suc­cess. Walsh says she has never faced dis­crim­i­na­tion from male com­peti­tors. “In rac­ing no one gets big in their boots. It doesn’t hap­pen be­cause you’re only as good as your last win­ner. We could both go down at a fence; he could fall and I could stand up. That doesn’t make him worse than me or bet­ter; it’s just what hap­pens on the day. Rac­ing’s a great lev­eller. You could ride a win­ner the first time and go out again and have an ab­so­lutely ter­ri­ble ride. You can be bril­liant one minute and aw­ful the next. That’s the way the sport is. “When I go out,” she adds, “I’m not look­ing for room. I’m not look­ing for some­one to be nice to me. We’re all fight­ing for the same prize.” And yet Walsh is con­scious that be­ing a woman af­fects how on­look­ers – whether that’s race­go­ers or train­ers – see her. “You want to look like a man when you’re on the race­course,” she says. “Some­times peo­ple can look at a race and go, ‘There’s a girl.’ You can spot them; ob­vi­ously we’re a dif­fer­ent shape. You want to look like one of them when you’re out there.” Her views on whether there should be more fe­male jock­eys are likely to en­rage fem­i­nists. “There are a lot of women on the flat,” says Walsh. “But in Na­tional Hunt rac­ing, it’s hard. It’s a tough sport. It’s very, very

Clothes horse: as well as rac­ing, Katie Walsh has a pas­sion for fash­ion

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