Guineas Festival 2023: A forgotten racehorse trainer who was the first woman in the UK to be issued with a training licence in 1886 is to have a race at The QIPCO Guineas Festival renamed in her honour, The Jockey Club has announced.
Ellen Chaloner has lain in an unmarked grave in Newmarket Cemetery since her death in 1944, with much of her extraordinary life story unrecorded and forgotten with the passage of time.
But now, thanks to a campaign launched by her descendants and supported by The Jockey Club, the ‘First Lady of the Turf’ will have her name deservedly etched into the history books.
At an event hosted at The Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket on 6th March to commemorate Ellen ahead of International Women’s Day on 9th March, it was announced that the trailblazing trainer’s contribution to the sport would be marked with the permanent renaming of a race on 2,000 Guineas Day, Saturday 6th May.
The campaign has also enabled the purchase of two new headstones to mark where Ellen and other members of the Chaloner family are buried in Newmarket Cemetery, and will make a contribution to Women In Racing’s Bursary Fund to support the professional development of women working in racing today.
Ellen’s family travelled from all corners of the United Kingdom and Ireland to attend the occasion, where a special episode of Stephen Wallis’ podcast, The Paddock and the Pavillion, was recorded in front of a live audience.
Among those in attendance was retired Irish Champion Jump Jockey Charlie Swan, Ellen’s great-great grandson, who said: “When I started riding my mum kept telling me that my great-great grandmother and father used to ride and train horses, but it sort of went over my head a little bit when I was that age. I didn’t really think about it.
“It’s only in the last few years that I suddenly realised where my riding talents probably came from.”
Swan added: “It’s fantastic that Ellen is getting some recognition and hopefully we’ll make it there on the day.”
During the event to honour Ellen’s place in the history of British Racing, a portrait was unveiled which will be on display at Newmarket’s Rowley Mile racecourse.
Osborne House, where Ellen trained, is now home to longstanding trainer Sir Mark Prescott who attended the event and commented: “She was a remarkable woman and she lived in some style. Osborne House, which is there and named after the family, has 10 bedrooms and the cellars are massive.”
He added: “I’m very proud of her. I always tell everybody when they look round at the stables.”
Susie Wilks, Ellen’s great granddaughter was also interviewed during the podcast and said: “She was a very formidable lady but very deaf in her later years – my mother used to say it was always quite embarrassing having conversations with her because most of the racecourse could hear!
“I believe when she was in her later years and in a wheelchair, the racecourse built a plinth for her so she could watch the racing from there.
“We are all very grateful to The Jockey Club and everyone who has made all this possible. It is very humbling and an honour to have a race named after her, especially on 2,000 Guineas Day.”
Gay Kelleway, the Newmarket trainer who was the first female jockey to ever win a race at Royal Ascot in 1987, said: “It is fantastic and it’s not just an ordinary race, It’s on Guineas Day and it’s a race for fillies, so it is very appropriate.
“To name a race after her is a great privilege and we mustn’t lose our heritage in horse racing, particularly in Newmarket.”
About Ellen Chaloner
Ellen Chaloner (nee Osborne), who died aged 98, made history by being the first woman to be granted a training permit following the death of her Derby-winning jockey and trainer husband Tom in 1886, some 80 years before the High Court gave female racehorse trainers legal recognition.
Ellen applied for permission to train the family’s string of horses herself, at which time she also had seven young children to look after. When the request was granted by The Jockey Club, then the regulator and governing body for racing, it marked a significant point in the history of the sport.
The pioneering trainer went on to have a number of successes, including at Royal Ascot when her filly Jersey Lily won the Triennial Stakes in 1887.
Though there are gaps in Ellen’s history, her family, along with historians Dr Esther Harper and Tim Cox, have pieced together much of what her life looked like. Daughter of racehorse trainer Johnny Osborne Sr, Ellen’s brother Johnny Jnr was a 12-time Classic-winning jockey who had won the Derby in 1869.
She passed away in 1944 having outlived all seven of her children.
The Ellen Chaloner Stakes
Previously The Kilvington Stakes held at Nottingham, the race over six furlongs race for fillies aged three years and older was transferred to Newmarket in 2022. Its ‘handle’ has now been permanently changed toThe Ellen Chaloner Stakes with the permission of British Horseracing Authority’s Flat Pattern Committee and will remain in perpetuity.
Members of the Chaloner family will be present at The Rowley Mile on QIPCO 2,000 Guineas Day, Saturday 6th May 2023, for the inaugural running of The Ellen Chaloner Stakes.
Main picture: Direct descendants of Ellen Chaloner with her portrait at The Jockey Club Rooms, courtesy of Mark Westley/The Jockey Club.
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