Jockey vs Rugby Player II: Who Wins?

Two-time Grade 1-winning jockey Lizzie Kelly went head to head with Harlequins Ladies captain and Women’s Rugby World Cup winner Rachael Burford in the latest episode of Great British Racing’s Jockey vs series, showcasing the fitness of racing’s human athletes against a range of other sporting stars.

Watch the full video and find out who wins:

Credit: Great British Racing and Racing TV.

Both athletes have had phenomenal careers in their respective sports thus far, with Kelly the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 race in December 2015 with Tea for Two in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton, while Burford was a key member of the England Women squad that won the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2014.

They are both in training for huge upcoming events in the sporting calendar, with Kelly set to compete at the Cheltenham Festival this year, after having her first winner at The Festival last year on board Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase. Burford is part of the England Women’s Six Nations squad that faces Wales at Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday, while her club side Harlequins Ladies are challenging for the Tyrrells Premier 15s title and will host The Game Changer at the Stoop against Gloucester-Hartpury on Saturday 30th March.

Kelly, 25, and Burford, 32, showcased their remarkable athletic ability during the challenge, and provided some unexpected results in the four tests they undertook. The exercises that formed the contest were:

  • The Plank
  • Vertical Jump
  • 30 second Wattbike test
  • Equiciser

Lizzie Kelly, winner of two Grade 1 races in her career so far, said: “I hope I showed to people the fitness and strength that jockeys have to have in order to compete on a daily basis. In sports like rugby, professionals have a lot more coaching and training than jockeys do, so I imagined before that Rachael was likely to beat me. It was nice to see that I could hold my own against someone who has represented their country more than 80 times in a sport like rugby.”

Rachael Burford, Harlequins Ladies and England centre, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed pitting myself against Lizzie in this set of fitness challenges. As an elite athlete, I relish competition, and to be able to go against a top-class competitor from a different sport was extremely exciting.

“Lizzie showed the kind of shape you have to be in to be a top jockey and she certainly opened my eyes to the challenges that her training programme provides – of course I’m talking about the Equiciser!

“I wish her the best of luck for the rest of the season and hope to welcome her back to The Stoop for The Game Changer on Saturday 30th March.”


The challenge began with the plank, a common isometric assessment to measure core strength. Kelly and Burford were expected to perform well in this exercise, with both athletes requiring a huge amount of core strength to be successful in their respective sports.

The plank test measures the control and endurance of the back/core stabilizing muscles. A bit like the press-up position, the upper body is supported off the ground by the elbows and forearms, with legs straight and the weight taken by the toes. The hip is lifted off the floor creating a straight line from head to toe. The results are the length of time the athletes hold the plank position.


Lizzie Kelly – 3 mins 2 secs

Rachael Burford – 3 mins 4 secs

The Harlequins Ladies centre outlasted the Grade 1-winning jockey after an impressive three minute hold from both athletes to take a 1–0 lead.



A vertical jump from a standing start measures elastic leg strength and power. To record their scores, the athletes placed a piece of tape on the rugby posts with one arm fully extended upward, before jumping up and sticking tape on the posts with the same arm. The result is the difference between the two pieces of tape from standing height and jumping height.


Lizzie Kelly – 49cm

Rachael Burford – 47cm

Turning the tables on Burford, Kelly produced a giant leap in her final effort of three in the Vertical Jump. The distance between Kelly’s standing height and her jump was measured as 49cm, leapfrogging Burford’s effort of 47cm and drawing her level in the contest at 1–1.



The 30-second Wattbike test monitors the sprint capacity and power on a bike, where participants cycle as fast as they can for 30 seconds. The Wattbike has proved to be a useful testing and fitness tool for athletes/gym goers since its inception in 2008. The results for this particular test are taken from the power output (watts) per kilogram of the athletes, in order to make the test fair.


Lizzie Kelly – 4.70 W/kg

Rachael Burford – 4.47W/kg

This round went to Lizzie Kelly and her strong jockey’s legs, bringing the score to 2–1.



The Equiciser is used to assess a rider’s balanced body position, teach and practice the correct pushing technique, as well as being used to improve fitness in preparation for a race or recover from injury. Riders must maintain a compact, squat-like position while retaining a steady push on the reins of the equiciser (as demonstrated by Lizzie Kelly in the image above). The projected push rate on an equiciser for a racehorse travelling at 35mph is around 120 bpm. To allow for Kelly’s experience as a jockey, Burford would win the challenge if she managed to maintain a steady pace on the equiciser of around 120bpm for one minute.

Lizzie Kelly – 2 mins @ 120bpm

Rachael Burford – 1 min @ 120bpm

Although Lizzie Kelly achieved the ‘same’ result (of 120bpm), the time allowance for Rachael Burford’s inexperience meant she hit the adjusted target and was allocated the win in this round! 

FULL-TIME SCORE: Lizzie Kelly 2–2 Rachael Burford

Yariv Kam, fitness coach at the British Racing School, commented on the challenge: “I think the result of this contest really demonstrates the qualities and the level of peak fitness that jockeys need in order to compete. Jockeys shouldn’t be ashamed of competing with disciplined professional sportspeople.

“In terms of the challenges themselves, for Lizzie to then win the Vertical Jump and the Wattbike emphasises that jockeys really do need strong legs, it is so important on the horse for jockeys to keep their legs working in order to hold a streamlined position with their core and upper body.

“Finally, what an effort to see Rachael stay on the equiciser for a minute at that sort of level. We find here at the British Racing School that people really struggle on the equiciser on their first time of giving it a go, so that was really impressive.

“Congratulations to both Lizzie and Rachael on their amazing performance!”



This is the third Jockey vs fitness battle, with two-time Randox Health Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell facing the all-time leading record Aviva Premiership try scorer Tom Varndell in the first Jockey vs Rugby Player in 2017. Watch the video here

Last year, Silk Series jockey Hollie Doyle took on Arsenal and England Footballer Leah Williamson in the first Jockey vs Footballer challenge. Watch the video here

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