In Flat racing, an apprentice jockeys’ licence allows young, inexperienced riders – aged between 16 and 26 years – to receive a weight allowance, or ‘claim’, when riding against full professional jockeys to compensate for their initial lack of experience. According to Rule (F) 140 of the Rules of Racing, apprentice jockeys can claim 7lb until they have ridden 20 winners, 5lb until they have ridden 50 winners and 3lb until they have ridden 95 winners.
In other words, once an apprentice has ridden 95 winners, his or her apprentice licence becomes invalid and he or she is said to have ‘ridden out’ his or her claim. He or she is then required to apply for a full professional licence with six months. Of course, it is also possible for an apprentice to turn 26 before he or she has ridden out his or her claim, in which case his or her apprentice licence becomes invalid anyway and he or she must apply for a full professional licence immediately.
The simple answer is no, at least, not yet. The first lady jockey to ride in the Grand National was Charlotte Brew, who failed to complete the course on her own horse, Barony Court, in 1977. The first lady jockey to complete the Grand National course was Geraldine Rees, on Cheers, in 1982 and although several other lady jockeys have done so subsequently few of them have threatened to win the world famous steeplechase. So far, those to have achieved the highest placings are Rosemary Henderson, on Fiddlers Pike, Carrie Ford, on Forest Gunner, and Bryony Frost, on Milansbar, who all finished fifth, in 1994, 2005 and 2018, respectively, and Katie Walsh, on Seabass, who finished third in 2012.
Lester Piggott is arguably the greatest Flat jockey of all time. Between 1948 and 1995, he rode 4,493 winners on the Flat, including 30 British Classic winners, and became Champion Jockey 11 times. Piggott never rode over fences, so he could never have won the Grand National but, early in his career, he did ride successfully over hurdles.
In fact, Piggott rode his first winner over obstacles, Eldoret, at Wincanton on Boxing Day, 1953. The following spring – still three months before his first Derby winner, Never Say Die – he won the Birdlip Hurdle, the opening race at what became the Cheltenham Festival, on Mull Sack and the Triumph Hurdle, in those days run at the now-defunct Hurst Park, on Prince Charlemagne, within the space of a few days. All in all, between 1953 and 1959, Lester Piggott rode 20 winners over hurdles, mainly for his father, Keith.
Lester Piggott may never have won the Grand National, but his grandfather, Ernie, rode three Grand National winners – Jerry M in 1912 and Poethlyn in 1918 and 1919 – and his father saddled the 1963 Grand National winner, Ayala; perhaps the headline question is not quite so absurd, after all?
The ‘Grand National that never was’ took place in 1993 and was so-called because, although seven horses completed the course, the result was subsequently declared void and the race was never re-run. Oblivious to a second false start, the majority of the 39-strong field set off on the first circuit of the National Course and, despite frantic efforts by all and sundry to stop the race, it was not until the sixteenth fence, the Water Jump, that many of the jockeys became aware that they had been recalled by the starter and pulled up.
Even so, fourteen horses headed out ‘into the country’ for a second time. They were eventually led home by Esha Ness, owned by Patrick Bancroft, trained by Jenny Pitman and ridden by John White, who was first past the post at odds of 50/1. Ironically, had the result been allowed to stand, Esha Ness would have recorded the second-fastest time in the history of the National. However, following what the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan called, ‘the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National’, the race was nullified by the stewards and bookmakers were forced to refund tens of millions of pounds.