One of the best female riders of her generation, Gee Armytage had been victorious twice at the Cheltenham Festival before partnering the aptly named Gee-A in the 1988 Grand National.
Gee-A was still going well on the second circuit before being pulled up before the 26th fence by his 22-year-old rider after she strained a muscle in her back. Her amateur rider brother Marcus, a journalist with The Daily Telegraph, won the Grand National on Mr Frisk in 1990.
Since retiring from the saddle, Gee has married jockey Mark Bradburne and is personal assistant to 15-time champion jump jockey Tony McCoy.
Here she tells Eclipse Magazine about her experience in the National:
“It has always been an ambition for my family to win the Grand National, so yes I did want to ride it, and I wanted to win it. My father trained some horses to run well in it before I was riding at that level. My brother Marcus was an amateur rider and won in 1990 on Mr Frisk.”
Credit where it’s due…
“I didn’t have problems [being taken seriously as a female jockey in the race], because I had already proved myself winning two races at the Cheltenham Festival the season before; and I was regularly competing in the top races against the top lads. My Grand National ride on Gee-A was not family connected. I would have had several rides in the Grand National but for injury forcing me out of the race at the last minute. As it was I only had one.
“We had our own changing room away from the main lads’ one. It was a bit lonely in that respect but we came to expect that, and the year I rode I think there were three of us [women jockeys] starting out.
“It was always a responsibility to do well as a lady jockey: if something had gone wrong in any race, as a girl it was always going to be your fault – but as a bloke it was just one of those things.
“As I said I had the respect of the lads in the Weighing Room because of the results I had already had. The great thing about riding in the National is that everyone wishes everyone else well and means it.
“Yeah, funny really, they love the attention! I never responded to any of that – if anything it helped us, as it took the pressure off in a funny way. And how I loved proving them wrong!”
Could this be the year…
“The jumps [now] are slightly smaller and safer but still take a good round from horse and rider to complete. The standard of all riders has gone up so much, therefore I don’t think it has got any easier.
Nina [Carberry] could win it any day: she is a great rider and could well get on a horse good enough to win the National. It is only a matter of time before the race is won by a woman, in my opinion.”
(When this interview took place the Grand National had not yet been won by a woman jockey. In fact Rachel Blackmore made history when she won in 2021.)
High on excitement…
“It was memorable alright, but not the high point of my career. It would have been if I had won of course! [But] I would do it all over again in a flash; it has a really exciting build-up, unlike any other race in the world. You could win a thousand races, and numerous Championship races, and the general public wouldn’t have a clue – but the one race all people will talk about is the Grand National.”
As told to Sara Waterson
Allison is the Publisher of Eclipse Magazine. She loves going to the Races and is learning to bet (despite being officially the worst bettor in the History of the Universe), there’s a lot more to learn…