Women have played an active role in Kentucky Derby history since the turn of the century. In 1904, Mrs. Laska Durnell nominated Elwood to the Kentucky Derby, unbeknownst to her husband, trainer Charles Durnell. The decision was a shrewd one and Elwood won as the longest price in the field of five. Elwood was the first starter and winner owned by a woman, and also the first winner bred by a woman, Mrs. J.B. Prather.
By the 1940s, women owners in the Derby were almost commonplace. In 1942, seven of the first eight finishers in the Kentucky Derby were owned by women. The exception was Valdina Orphan, who finished third.
As of 2015, no woman trainer or jockey has won the Kentucky Derby. Many female trainers have run horses in the Kentucky Derby including; Mary Hirsch (1937), the first female trainer to race a horse in the Kentucky Derby; Shelley Riley whose Casual Lies finished 2nd in the 1992 Kentucky Derby, and Kathy Ritvo whose Mucho Macho Man finished 3rd in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and went on to win the Breeder’s Cup Classic in 2013, making Kathy the first female trainer to win a Breeders’ Cup Classic race.
Six women have ridden in the famed "Run for the Roses": Diane Crump, Patti Cooksey, Andrea Seefeldt, Julie Krone, Rosemary Homeister and Rosie Napravnik.