Who was the first female jockey to win a British steeplechase?
Diana Thorne is one of the twin daughters of John Thorne, who was 54 years old when he finished second in the ‘fairytale’ Grand National of 1981 on his own horse, Spartan Missile, on whom he’d won the Foxhunters’ Chase, over the National fences, in 1978 and 1979. She was also married to six-time British National Hunt Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson for 28 years, but eventually moved out of the marital home at Seven Barrows in Lambourn, Berkshire in 2006.
However, Diana Thorne found fame in her own right when, in February, 1976, she became the first woman to ride a winner under National Hunt rules. She was, in fact, only the second women to compete against the men but, in the Nimrod Hunter Chase at Stratford, on her very first ride under rules, she won on Ben Ruler, owned by her father.
Indeed, having ridden a patient, well-judged race, Diana Thorne eventually got the better of Air General, ridden by her father – who was, at the time, a sprightly 49-year-old – winning by a neck in a photo-finish. Having made up 15 lengths on the leaders from the third-last fence, Diana Thorne said afterwards, ‘I wasn’t worried because Ben Ruler always needs to have his breather and then finishes well’.