When people think of horse racing, they often picture a man holding the reins because, for years, that was the case. But for over a century [1], women have jockeyed their way to the top of the horse racing ladder, one win at a time.

Today, we’re highlighting some of the most influential women in thoroughbred and standardbred racing to showcase the impact they’ve made on the sport.


Thoroughbred Racing Trailblazers

Although thoroughbred racing in North America dates back to the 1600s, it didn’t pick up speed until much later in the 1800s [2]. The well-known Kentucky Derby was established in 1875 and became the first major track in the United States for visitors to watch jockeys and their horses in their element [3].

While thoroughbred racing began as a male-only sport, women have paved the way for a well-deserved spot in the limelight. Below are two prominent women known for their successes in thoroughbred racing.

#1 Diane Krump

Diane Krump
Image Credit: AP Photo/Gene Herrick

Imagine being welcomed by a crowd amidst a combination of cheers and resounding “boos” ahead of a race. That’s exactly what happened to Diane Krump at Hialeah Racetrack in 1969 as she prepared to be the first woman to race in a pari-mutuel race [4].

Although she didn’t win that day, she had her eyes on the prize. She wanted to compete amongst the men in the Kentucky Derby.

In between taking part in races around the world, she and her husband were also training horses for a friend of theirs. That very same friend, Mr. Brown, asked Diane if she would race his horse, Fathom, in the Kentucky Derby since Fathom was an unlikely winner.

Diane agreed and became the first woman to ever race in the Kentucky Derby, making her dream a reality.

#2 Julie Krone

Julie Krone was born in 1963. At just 14 years of age, she decided that she was meant to be a horse racer [5]. After watching 18-year-old Steve Cauthen win a Triple Crown race, she was determined to make her dreams a reality.

16 years and seemingly countless wins later, she finally won her very own Triple Crown race. Not only did she win, but she was the first woman in history to do so. Julie has gone on to add many other achievements to her star-studded belt, including [5]:

  • Being ESPN’s Professional Athlete of the Year (1993)
  • Becoming the first woman to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame (2000)
  • Winning over 3,700 races in her career


Julie Krone
Image Credit: NYRA

Although she retired from thoroughbred horse racing in 2004, her passion for racing didn’t end there. She continues to give motivational speeches and provide private tutoring to women interested in becoming the best thoroughbred racers in the industry.


Female Pioneers in Standardbred Racing

Unlike thoroughbred racing, standardbred racing, also known as harness racing, occurs when a horse pulls a two-wheeled cart that the driver sits in. Once a male-dominated sport, the following women (and many others) have worked tirelessly to make a name for themselves in standardbred racing.


#3 Pearl Kelly

Pearl O’Brien was born in Koo-Wee-Rup, Australia in 1894 [6]. She and her family later moved to Perth, where she married and adopted her more well-known name, Pearl Kelly. Around this time, in 1912, she applied for a license to drive at the Western Australian Trotting Association. The association’s president granted her access and she began her racing career.


Pearl Kelly
Image Credit: Victorian Collections


In 1917, she became the first woman to win a race against the men in the Richmond Hundred. She continued racing wherever she was able, despite women being banned from the sport after a female driver was killed during a race in 1928 [6].

That didn’t stop Pearl from persevering and pursuing her passion. At 53 years old, she was still training on the Royal Showgrounds in Melbourne. She competed in her last race at the age of 64, showing men and women everywhere that age is not a factor when you’re participating in something you love.


#4 Kerryn Manning

Thankfully, the ban on women drivers had been overturned by the time Kerryn Manning was old enough to take the harness racing reins. Since the start of her career at 16, she’s taken home over 3,000 wins.

Some of her most memorable moments include [7]:

  • Taking home 371 harness-racing wins during a season when the average number of wins was 175
  • Being one of four women in the top 20 Australian harness drivers in 2015
  • Winning six times at a single event (an accomplishment she’s achieved three times)
  • Accumulating more than $20 million in racing prize money (which is split between the driver, the trainer, and the horse’s owner)


Kerryn Manning
Image Credit: Peter Pickering


Take Your Knowledge of Horse Racing to the Next Level with PHRA

Whether you’re interested in celebrating some of the women in horse racing or you’re simply curious about the difference between thoroughbred and harness racing, PHRA has a library of educational resources dedicated to helping you find the information you’re looking for.

From the history of horse racing to tips on placing your first bet, check out our resources for all of your horse racing needs.


[1] “Women in Racing,” Racing Museum, https://www.racingmuseum.org/exhibits/women-racing

[2] “The History of Racing,” University of Arizona, https://cals.arizona.edu/classes/ans142/read/Module-01.html

[3] “Kentucky Derby History,” Kentucky Derby, https://www.kentuckyderby.com/history/kentucky-derby-history

[4] “Diane Krump,” Diane Krump, https://www.dianecrump.com/docs/diane.htm

[5] “Julie Krone,” National Women’s Hall of Fame, https://www.womenofthehall.org/inductee/julie-krone/

[6] “Women In Harness Racing – Pearl Kelly,” John Peck, https://victoriancollections.net.au/media/collectors/4fd821b2023fd716cc372bfc/items/60641a6c175fecd3b2dc0f7e/item-media/60641d35175fecd3b2dc1a8d/original.pdf

[7] “The world’s No. 1 female harness racing driver is an Australian you’ve probably never heard of,” The Sydney Morning Herald, https://www.smh.com.au/national/the-worlds-no-1-female-harness-racing-driver-is-an-australian-youve-probably-never-heard-of-20150407-1mg562.html

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