It was definitely girls’ night as the female jockeys’ team trounced their male counterparts in an exhilarating battle for the Markel Jockeys Jumping in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund, a contest that had the packed Olympia audience roaring with excitement as the two teams of five got to grips with borrowed horses and unfamiliar knock-down fences against the clock.
The girls’ team, trained by eventer Pippa Funnell and captained by Bridget Andrews, reversed last year’s result and got off to a brilliant start when Lizzie Kelly flew around clear, including at the final joker fence. Josephine Gordon was fastest of the team of five, eventually taking second place in the individual rankings behind Jim Crowley, who restored male pride with a flying round.
Nicola Currie from Scotland also put up a terrific performance and both Bryony Frost, on an enchanting dun Connemara, and team captain Bridget Andrews put in some audacious turns, making up for rails down with their speed. “The girls really performed this year on horses they’ve never sat on,” said Bridget, who married Harry Skelton in the summer.
By the time the men’s captain, 20-time National Hunt champion jockey AP McCoy, entered the arena it was all over – which was perhaps just as well, as his mount proved a testing ride, putting in a couple of sharp stops.
“The girls were so stylish – they knocked the boys for six and Josephine was on fire,” said a visibly delighted Pippa Funnell.
“It’s something different and gets the adrenaline going,” said Josephine, “and the fact that we won makes it even better.”
Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper Nick Skelton, who may have some words after his son Harry hit the final joker, admitted that the girls’ speed had his lads on the back foot, “but it was great fun and all in a good cause”.