By Ellie Kelly
LONDON (Reuters) – The allure of becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National would be the dream of many but British jockey Lizzie Kelly is determined that her initial goal is to simply cross the finish line of the showpiece race on Saturday.
Kelly, regarded as one of the best female jump jockeys around, made history as the first woman to win a top level (Grade 1) race in 2017. She has also claimed victories at Cheltenham, but this will be her greatest challenge yet.
The 25-year-old will be content with making it round in one piece at Aintree, particularly as just five out of 17 female jockeys have finished the race.
“I don’t think I am there with dreaming I could win it. I don’t want to get myself into that frame of mind – we have to jump the first, the second and the last,” Kelly, who will ride Tea for Two, told Reuters.
“What is fantastic is that I am riding in my mum’s colours (as owner of Tea for Two) on a horse I adore. If we just get round, that would be magic. My main goal is to stay on board and finish together. But I am looking forward to it.”
Kelly and her horse have shared a remarkable journey since 2013 when she rode him to win his very first race. He was four, Kelly was 19 and studying at university while planning a corporate career, rather than the path of professional jockey.
Tea for Two then helped Kelly become the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 jumps race in 2015. The pair entered the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2017, Kelly being only the second woman to ride in it. A year later they finished a creditable seventh.
“He’s my horse of a lifetime. I feel sorry for the great horses that come after because they will never be as special as he is to me. I get very emotional with him because of what he has done for me,” she said.
“I couldn’t ask to do the Grand National on a better horse.”
Kelly, an ambassador for Great British Racing, has been unseated twice in high-profile races including last month at Cheltenham.
However, falling is part of the job in jump racing where a jockey might expect a tumble for every 16 rides and Kelly is relaxed about hitting the deck.
“When you’ve fallen at the second fence in the Gold Cup in front of millions of people you know not to get worked up about it,” she said.
“If he falls, he falls. The two times he has managed to get rid of me, has been due to miscommunication and he looks after himself. In fact he’s always managed to dump me and nimbly keep himself off the ground!”
Aintree has been happy hunting ground for Kelly and her horse, having won their second Grade 1 race together there in 2017, and she is not fazed by the occasion.
“This is just another race and I’m going to do what I am good at. If I make a mistake, who cares and if I don’t, I could win,” she said.
(Reporting by Ellie Kelly; Editing by Christian Radnedge)