On February 7, 1969, Diane Crump became the first woman to compete as a professional jockey in a pari-mutuel race in the United States. She rode a horse named Bridle ‘n Bit at Hialeah Park Race Track. There was so much hostility to a woman riding in a horse race that she needed a police escort to get to the track, taking her through an angry crowd of shouting people. Crump ultimately finished 9th in the 12-horse race and returned to cheers of support. Crump reflects on that experience, recalling that her excitement surrounding this incredible opportunity enabled her to ignore the toxic environment of the crowd and aggressively negative attitudes of the male jockey’s, trainers and owners. Two weeks later, Crump rode her first winning race.
“The crowd was just swarming all over me. They were crazy, up in arms. . .The hecklers were yelling: ‘Go back to the kitchen and cook dinner.’ That was the mentality at the time. They thought I was going to be the downfall of the whole sport, which is such a medieval thought. I was like: ‘Come on people, this is the 1960s!’
Crump was inspired to apply for her jockey’s license in the fall of 1968 after the very first woman licensed jockey, Kathryn Kusner, sued the Maryland Racing Commission for the right to be granted a license. Kusner had previously been denied a jockey’s license because of her gender and although she won her case in October of 1968 and was granted a license, she suffered an injury soon after that prevented her from competing, allowing Crump to step forward and assume the responsibilities of a revolutionary female jockey. While Crump was granted the jockey’s license in 1968, she continued to face sexist rules, regulations and personal harassments as she attempted to further her career in horse racing.
Throughout 1968, all female jockeys were being met with aggressive efforts to dissuade their participation in the sport. One of the part owners of Churchill Downs, W.L. Lyons Brown, who Crump was galloping for at the time she was granted her license, requested that Crump not compete in races in Kentucky for fear that it would create too much controversy for Churchill Downs as a track. Female jockey, Penny Ann Early, attempted to ride at Churchill at that same time, however she was never given the opportunity to compete in the races due to all the male jockeys boycotting her races and causing their cancellations. Two other women had been forced out of horse races they had entered after male jockeys threw rocks at the trailers used as locker rooms by the women and threatened a boycott. The situation changed at Hialeah because the track officials threatened sanctions against the male jockeys.
In 1970, she became the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Crump won the first race on the undercard that day, and then on a horse named Fathom, came in 15th in a 17-horse field in the Derby. By the time she ended her racing career in 1985, she had ridden 235 wins, though she is officially credited with 228 by Equibase.
While Crump was riding some races in the United States, she was also receiving invitations to ride in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. In the early 1970s Crump competed in a two horse race in Puerto Rico which lacked the same rule structure as American racing. During the race, she realized the male jockey behind her was holding onto her saddle. She then began to hit him with her whip; they spent the rest of the race hitting each other. He then pulled away from her and won the race.