Beverley racecourse has honoured Dorothy Laird since 1992
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker
By David Ashforth 6:00PM 11 JUL 2016
Tucked away quietly at the end of Beverley’s card (6.05) is the 25th running of the race that has borne Dorothy Laird’s name since it was first run to celebrate her 80th birthday, in 1992.
That year it was 20 years since women were allowed to hold jockeys’ licences and although races for lady amateur riders had become familiar the first Dorothy Laird Ladies’ Handicap was unusual in being open to both amateur and professional women riders.
There weren’t many of the latter and just two of the 12 riders, Alex Greaves and Lorna Vincent, were professionals. Both were pioneers. Vincent was the first woman to establish herself as a professional jumps jockey while, in 1997, by dead-heating in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York on Ya Malak, Greaves became the first woman to win a Group 1 race in Europe.
Both would win Dorothy Laird’s race, Vincent on Dodgy Dancer in 1993 and Greaves on Oscar Pepper in 2004.
The first race was won by Mrs Lydia Pearce, now a trainer, on Lots Of Luck, with Clare Balding and Anthea Farrell (now Morshead, clerk of the course at Kelso and Cartmel and assistant clerk at York) among the first competitors. The previous year Farrell had beaten male professionals to win the Topham Trophy over Aintree’s National fences on J J Henry.
The inaugural race was worth £3,184 to the winner and for several years it was sponsored by Timeform. Sadly, by 2011 the winning prize was down to £1,617 and this year is £2,588.
Pearce won Dorothy Laird’s race three more times, on Brilliant in 1994 and Gold Blade in 1996 and 2000. In that year, Laird died and the race became the Dorothy Laird Memorial Trophy Ladies’ Handicap.
Laird had led a remarkable life. Aged 21 she had a novel published, intriguingly titled Double Cherry, and then sailed around Cape Horn. Having married a shipowner called John Carr she kept her maiden name until 1964 when, as features editor of the Racing Information Bureau, she wrote under the pseudonym of Charles Croft.
A royalist, Laird wrote several books about the Royal Family, as well as about Charles Darwin, Royal Ascot, the National Stud and many other subjects. A founder member of the Lady Jockeys’ Association and subsequently its honorary secretary and president, when the Association merged with the Amateur Jockeys’ Association, in 1996, she became joint vice-president.
The race’s history is full of names familiar and forgotten. Emma Ramsden won on Harry Browne in 1995 and on Iron Mountain three years later, when Alex Hammond also took part.
Serena Brotherton, inevitably, has won the race – on Gala Sunday in 2006 and City Ground in 2013. So have Lucy Alexander, soon afterwards champion conditional jump jockey, on Key Breeze in 2011, and Amy Ryan, on Tinseltown in 2012, when she was champion apprentice.
Where are Jo Hunnam, winner on Rare Talent in 1999, and Miss Lynsey Hanna, winner on Rutland Chantry in 2002? Oh, Hunnam’s a work rider with Godolphin and Hanna’s married to trainer Olly Williams.
This year? Brotherton again, perhaps, on San Cassiano.