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Longines Celebrates Women in Thoroughbred Racing

Princess Anne 2016 Longines Ladies Award WinnerHorse racing is surely one of the oldest sports known to man, and now one of the most valuable leisure industries of the age. Even in these digital times nothing can beat the excitement of seeing in the flesh the true beauty and grace of a fully stretched thoroughbred passing the winning post.

From June 14 to 18, the eyes of the horse racing world, as well as royal watchers and fashionistas, will come together at the universally renowned race meeting that is Royal Ascot.

With 300 years of tradition behind it – typically British, yet cosmopolitan – a festival of color, speed and power, Royal Ascot is Britain’s most valuable race meeting with £6.58 million worth of prize money to add to the competitive spirit of the occasion. 

Anticipated and revered, the event welcomes 300,000 visitors, making it Britain’s most popular race meeting where fans from the U.K. and beyond celebrate the best in the equestrian world in the most fashionable way. Ladies’ hats are mandatory and skirts must be knee-length or longer to maintain a classic look, while all gentlemen must wear black shoes, a waistcoat and tie – key pieces of the British Morning Dress rules. 

Ascot has enjoyed Royal patronage from the beginning – in 1711 Queen Anne is reputed to have seen the heath land and declared it suitable for galloping, and Royal Ascot has stayed royal to this day. With Queen Elizabeth II’s weekend residence, Windsor Castle, just five miles away, the Royal family is always in attendance – often cheering on one of her majesty’s own homebred horses. Indeed, in 2013 the Queen herself had the thrill of watching her horse Estimate win the Gold Cup. 

Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter Princess Anne has continued to be involved in equestrian sports.

This year it has been announced that Princess Anne will be awarded the 2016 Longines Ladies Awards, celebrating women whose positive influence and exceptional commitment have advanced the cause of equestrian sports. 

Previous winners included HRH Princess Haya Al Hussein (2015); Sylvie Robert, Jing Li, Bo Derek and Christiane “Criquette” Head-Maarek (2014); and Princess Zahra Aga Khan, Sophie Thalmann and Athina Onassis de Miranda (2013).

Women’s Excellence in Horse Racing

It is unique to equestrian sport that women and men compete in equality – they ride side by side, and racing is no exception. Since the first woman jockey sat in the plate, to Hayley Turner’s 100 wins in one season and Gay Kelleway’s first win for a woman jockey at Royal Ascot in 1987, women have continued to contribute to the sport at the highest level. Among today’s successful female jockeys are Emma-Jayne Wilson, Sammy Jo Bell, Michelle Payne and Rosie Napravnik, to name a few.

Meet three women who have contributed to modern horse racing in various capacities, affirming women’s relevance in the field around the world.


“Criquette” Head-Maarek

Professional trainer and winner of the Longines Ladies Awards in 2014

Christiane “Criquette” Head-Maarek’s love for horses started in her childhood, with her father, who was a successful trainer in his own right. By his retirement in late 1983, Alec Head had trained the winners of four Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and two Poule d’Essai des Pouliches races, to name a few.

Today, Head-Maarek is among the top trainers in the world, and runs her eponymous Ecurie Head-Maarek out of Chantilly, a small township north of Paris, where she looks after about 180 horses. The secret of her success? “Horse training is about observation,” she says. “I only use what the horse shows me. The quality of a horse is a natural gift that he has.” Initially, Head-Maarek worked as her father’s assistant, and decided to venture out on her own in the late 1970s. She received her training license in 1977 and was the second woman, after Myriam Bollack-Badel in 1975, to acquire such a certificate in France. Her horses have since won numerous races around the globe, including three times the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Dubai Champion S, the July Cup, the Prix de la Forêt, the Prix Maurice de Gheest and the Prix Jean Prat, among others.

Among her peers, Head-Maarek admires Gabriel Marie Waterhouse in Australia and Corine Barande-Barbe of France, who trained the famous Cirrus des Aigles, a winner of the first Group 1 at Ascot in 2011, when he defeated the then-favorite So You Think.

As for her favorite female jockeys, Head-Maarek says she likes the now-retired American Julie Krone, who in 1993 became the first woman jockey to win a Triple Crown race, and the Australian Michelle Payne, who took home the Melbourne Cup in 2015, riding Prince of Penzance, and was the first female jockey to win the event.

Hayley Turner
Retired English professional jockey with 764 career wins

Hayley Turner is the first woman with a successful career as a professional jockey in the U.K. She retired in 2015 after a career with 764 wins in one of the toughest sports in the world.

Surprisingly, Turner was not from a racing family. “My mum was a freelance riding instructor, and I followed her around,” she recalls. “I think I was riding from the beginning.” Living in Nottinghamshire, Turner always wanted to do something connected with horses. At 17, she told her parents she wanted to be a jockey and started working with trainers in Nottinghamshire. A perfectionist and very competitive, she realized she needed to be stronger, so she trained in the United States for four months with a “pre-trainer.” “When I came back,” she says, “I switched to Newmarket and became an apprentice – a much stronger apprentice – with Michael Bell.” She was joint Champion Apprentice in 2005.

Turner went on to have a sustained career, becoming the first woman to ride 100 flat race winners in 2008; she rode at over 900 races that year. She rode her first Group 1 winner Dream Ahead in the July Cup at Newmarket in 2011. In 2012, she rode 92 winners and was the first female jockey to ride on Dubai World Cup night as well as the second female jockey to ride in the Derby. She was also the first U.K.-based woman jockey to ride an International Group 1 winner in the Beverly D Stakes in the United States.

Turner retired from race riding in 2015 and now still rides out and enjoys media work. But she looks back on her race riding career with some satisfaction: “It didn’t come easily, I had to work at it, I was really self-critical – I wanted to ride, and I wanted to be really good at it."

Gay Kelleway

Trainer and a champion jockey, three-time Champion Professional Lady Rider

Gay Kelleway rode her first winner when she was just 17. Her record still stands as the youngest rider to win the ladies Amateur Championship when she was 18, and she turned professional at the age of 19. She was Champion Professional Lady Rider three years in a row. Kelleway was the first woman to ride in the Gold Cup at Ascot, and the first, and so far only, woman to ride a winner there when she won the Queen Alexandra Stakes on Sprowston Boy in 1987.

Kelleway’s father, Paul, was a jump jockey who went into training, and her mother was a point-to-point trainer, so racing was in her blood from the start. “One morning my father was short-staffed and asked me to ride out,” she says. “It became a habit and I got the bug. So I got my license and went on to be an apprentice jockey.” In the 1990s, after retiring as a jockey, with some 60 winners under her belt, Kelleway returned to Newmarket and started training. She now has her own yard – called the Queen Alexandra, where she trains 25-30 horses. “I am very passionate about what I do – I just love horses, I couldn’t do it otherwise,” she says. “I don’t think I could ever bear to be away from a horse.”

Royal Ascot played an important part in her racing career, and Kelleway would like nothing more than to have a winner there as a trainer. “I love Royal Ascot,” she says. “It would be a dream come true to have a winner there. It’s such a massive event – it’s a much bigger deal now than when I was riding myself.”

Celebrating key female accomplishments in thoroughbred racing over the years:

1711: Queen Anne finds the open heath of East Cote (now Ascot) “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch.”

1807: The Gold Cup, or “Ladies’ Day” – now the main race at Royal Ascot – first takes place.

1979: Christiane “Criquette” Head-Maarek, a pioneer of female involvement in equestrian sports, becomes the first female trainer to win the Arc de Triomphe prize in France.

1987: Gay Kelleway becomes the first woman to win at Royal Ascot, riding Sprowston Boy in the Queen Alexandra Stakes.

2006: Ascot racecourse is reopened by Queen Elizabeth II after a two-year, £200 million refurbishment.

2007: Emma-Jayne Wilson becomes the first woman to win the Queen’s Plate, the oldest race in North America.

2013: Princess Zahra Aga Khan, Sophie Thalmann and Athina Onassis de Miranda win the Longines Ladies Awards. Other winners include Sylvie Robert, Jing Li, Bo Derek, Christiane “Criquette” Head-Maarek (2014) and HRH Princess Haya Al Hussein (2015).

Since 2015, the Longines Ladies Awards ceremony is held on the eve of Royal Ascot in England.

2015: Michelle Payne becomes the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, on Prince of Penzance, at odds of 100 to 1.

2015: The “girls’ team” wins Ascot’s Shergar Cup for the first time, notably thanks to Sammy Jo Bell’s performance – also the first time such an inexperienced rider takes part in the race.

2016: Princess Anne becomes the latest recipient of the Longines Ladies Awards.

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