First female to judge this year’s Oaks

April 9, 2024 | In the News, WiR Features

Jane Green FRAS shares an uplifting and fascinating insight into her career journey, judging responsibilities and taking on a prestigious role at this year’s Epsom Derby meeting. Thank you Jane and best wishes from WiR!

It is always a privilege to take the proverbial ‘hot seat’ – the Judge’s chair – in horseracing but on 31 May this year it will be an enormous honour for me to judge the 2024 running of The Oaks, not only because it is the historic Classic for fillies but because it falls to me to be the first female in its 245-year-history to do so. Wow!

I could never have dreamed that one day little old Jane Green would end up in such an important role. When I was aged just five, my mother passed away leaving five children (two sets of twins and a six-month old younger sister). A few years later I was separated from my three brothers and father and with my sister was taken to live in Sussex with our grandparents. I had no confidence, no self-belief and, apparently, was incredibly shy! That is so unimaginable now! But I worked hard at school and college, believing an education would be my ‘ticket’ to a perceived ‘happiness’.

I achieved several international awards for my secretarial skills – which, truly, meant nothing at the time – and thanks to the kindness and encouragement of friends ended up working as a secretary at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London. This was followed by four years as a PA for the Manager of Flight Operations at McAlpine Aviation – an ad hoc business charter airline at Luton Airport – the perks of which were flying in fixed wing and propeller business jets and even taking the controls of a helicopter over Battersea Bridge on the Thames, at night no less! That wouldn’t happen now!

Following that excitement, I then spent sixteen years serving as senior officer on cruise ships travelling the world. It was here that the first of my two major paths in life opened up – astronomy. Sailing beneath the most amazing skies, I developed an interest in this science, studied Degree courses through the Open University and began officially presenting for the passengers. On leaving the sea, I continued with the presenting both on board and ashore and was commissioned to write a book which became a best seller. I was fortunate to participate in the first UK national theatre tour on astronomy, became a regular feature writer for the BBC Sky at Night and presented around the country, most recently for Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

So where do horses and horseracing fit in?

Horses have always been in my life, from the little girl reading Black Beauty or watching Champion the Wonder Horse, to being chastised for getting home late from school because I had chosen to wander in a field of horses instead! But for some reason the possibility of actually learning to ride was never on my radar. My involvement with horses began with gaited American Saddlebreds. In 1990 my ‘adopted’ mother/mentor – Cheryl Lutring – imported the first five-gaited American Saddlebred into this country from the USA. I thought the high-stepping mare was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. Then I attended the World’s Championships Horse Show in Louisville, Kentucky with Cheryl and just knew I had to have one!

My purchase – a big, bold, boisterous gelding – taught me all I know about riding. Oh boy, did he? There is nothing quite like getting dumped in the sand and eating dirt, several times, for teaching you what needs to be learnt. He had an enormous ground-covering trot. At home he wouldn’t slow down. In the show ring he wouldn’t start! But eventually we sorted it all out and Cheryl invited us to join the UK’s first Display Team and I became the first person in this country to exhibit an American Saddlebred horse harnessed to a show sulky – more ‘pinch me’ moments!

Incredibly, horseracing was never in my field of view. I was a late starter! I answered an advert in the Horse & Hound for the position of Steward’s Secretary. I never sat an interview. I worked two meetings in the Stewards Room at Lingfield racecourse and was told I had the role. Crikey! Racecard? What’s a racecard? But what I did know was that Thoroughbred horses would become a large part of my life.

Fourteen very enjoyable years later they became a much larger part when I transitioned to the role of Judge – the person who watches the horses cross the finishing line, determines the winner, announces the first four horses and places all the other runners before transmitting the official result. If a head or less separates any of the first four then I announce a ‘photo finish’ and work closely with my invaluable Photo Finish Operator (PFO), scrutinising the across-the-line image to identify horses and determine places. Often just one pixel can separate two runners. In rarer cases there are no pixels at all – it’s a dead heat.

It’s a very challenging role, but I am part of a brilliant team. As well as my Photo Finish Operator – also the first female PFO for The Oaks this year – I have the support of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Stewards who have my back.

It can be stressful. I dread making a mistake. But I try to keep focused. Admittedly, the heart pumps faster when judging in poor light in the winter; peering at black and white grainy images to split a heap of horses, or squinting in blinding summer sunshine to distinguish one light-coloured set of jockey silks from another when all appear identical! Or when experiencing a total power failure, losing all camera coverage, recording equipment, televisions and laptops just as the horses are being loaded into the stalls. On such a day, the race finally run but in dire conditions, I remember turning to my Photo Finish Operator, Sarah Stiles, rain-soaked and in semi-darkness, asking what she had recorded. She simply replied, crestfallen, “Nothing”.

The old heart beats faster still when seated in the Judge’s chair at Royal Ascot overlooking that glorious racecourse with its fabulous racehorses and many thousands of spectators. What a view! What an atmosphere! How did that shy girl from Sussex, who would never dare to dream, end up in that chair?

I honestly feel I have been incredibly lucky throughout my life. I have been in the right place at the right time and people have been so kind and supportive. I am part of a great Judges team. I especially owe an enormous debt of thanks to Di Clark, a fellow female judge, whose training ‘got me over the line’. Without her I would not be judging today.

And, finally, without doubt, my heart pounds fastest when I watch our beautiful equine athletes. It is all about the horses for me. Even after twenty years, I still have goose-bumps and my eyes still well up when I watch runners canter down to the start, so beautifully turned out and moving so freely within themselves. What a view! They are simply magnificent. It is ALWAYS an honour and a privilege to watch them. I have never lost sight of that and never will. This year’s fillies in The Oaks will doubtless have the same effect! Will I be nervous? Yes. Will I be excited? Yes. But, afterwards, I hope to be able to turn to my Team Principal, David Hicks, in the Epsom Judges Box with me, and smile, knowing that I have done justice to those beautiful fillies and to the history of this incredible 245-year-old Classic race.