Saturday, April 17, 2010

Some Racetrack History: Female Jockeys

As we approach another Triple Crown quest, I would like to draw attention to what I feel is a noble cause and frankly something that is quite interesting. Those who know me all realize my love affair with horse racing is deep seated to say the least. While I am one who is more then willing to grasp the new technology and so forth to keep the sport alive, I also push as hard as I can to keep the tradition and history of this great sport out for all to see. Not only do we learn from history, but heroes and leaders are formed through their actions and those actions have need to be taught to all.

Back in the winter of 68-69, there was a young woman named Barbra Jo Rubin who was trying to become the first certified female jockey. A trainer named Brian Webb was ready to name her to ride a horse at old Tropical Park. All hell broke loose. Male jockeys refused to ride if she was allowed to. "She's to weak". "It's a man's sport". Those were the gentler remarks coming from jockeys, trainers and fans. Fact is, that the hate and vitriol directed at Barbra Jo and Brian Webb was severe and extremely caustic. I know. I was there. Brian was stabled behind us in Barn 11. I witnessed the horrible treatment given to a fine young woman who only wanted to follow her dreams. I saw people throwing things at her as well as the inane remarks from some of the greatest riders of the times (and some trainers to I might add).

A while back, I saw a great column by Bill Christine of Horseracing Insider. In it he wrote of the anniversary of Barbra Jo's first win at Charlestown Racecourse, a track that had the guts to stand up to all of the guff and let her ride. He also mentioned a documentary that is being made by a gentleman named Jason Neff about the trials and tribulations that the pioneer female riders encountered as they tried to succeed in their chosen profession. I contacted him and we have had a correspondence back and forth since.

Which brings me to the main reason for today's column. On Black Eyed Susan Day, May 14th at Pimlico (the day before the Preakness) there is going to be a retired female jockey race that will also be pari-mutuel (you can bet on it). Jason is going to be filming it as the conclusion to his documentary. I am adding the press release for this below along with a request. This, as I said earlier is history. But it's not just about the female jockey aspect. It is a piece of our history that is still repeated everyday in some parts of the world and here as aimed at minorities of all kinds and especially woman. For example, to this day, there are people who still feel women should not be riding races!

My request. Learn from our history. Put it forward to all. Show people not only the good, but also the bad. As in all other endeavors in life, people suffered to pave the way for the next generation! The women involved in this paid a high price. Jason is trying to show that history to all of us as well as give these fabulous people their just recognition. The cause these woman are riding for (“Susan G. Komen For the Cure”) on the 14th is important to say the least! Please check out Jason's site "" for more information. Anyone that would like to help him finish his movie, please contact him! Again, this is history and in the end an example that we can use for all of our daughters as we try to teach them what it takes to succeed in life.

Press Release
April 11, 2010
(323) 860-8500


“Everybody said a race like this could never happen.”
--Jason Neff, Filmmaker

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – On the 40th anniversary of the first female jockey ever to ride in a triple crown race, the feature length documentary, JOCK is following 8 RETIRED FEMALE jockeys as they participate in a first of it’s kind

JOCK, from Director/Producer Jason Neff and Emmy Award-winning Producer, Linda Ellman presents the never-beforetold story of the courageous female jockeys who overcame sexual harassment, ridicule and life threatening injuries to wage
a gallant fight for the right to ride more than 40 years ago. They used passion as a weapon in the sexual revolution and paid a price with their lives.

As part of JOCK, Neff and Ellman are documenting the 8 retired jockeys as they prepare for the LADY LEGENDS RACE OR THE CURE. The race is being organized by the Maryland Jockey Club and benefits “Susan G. Komen For the Cure,”
the world’s largest breast cancer organization. It will take place on Black-Eyed Susan Day, Friday May 14, 2010 at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Lady Legends Race for the Cure will provide the closing act of JOCK, bringing the stunning journey of the pioneer female jockeys to a conclusion that’s as dramatic as the day it began.

Riders include:
• Barbara Jo Rubin, age 60, first woman to win against a man at a recognized racetrack, 41 years ago.
• Jennifer Rowland, 57, top pioneer female rider on the Maryland Circuit in the 70’s.
• Cheryl White, 56, the first African-American female jockey.
• PJ Cooksey, 52, the third all-time leading female jockey with over 2000 wins and breast cancer survivor.
• Mary Wiley Wagner, top 5 apprentice jockey in the nation in 1987 and breast cancer survivor.
• Andrea Seefeldt, Kentucky Derby and Preakness jockey.
• Gwen Jocson, record holder for the most wins in a single year by a woman.
• Mary Russ Tortora, 56, first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes race.

The oldest in the race, Barbara Jo Rubin said, “I can't believe I'm doing this at 60 and a grandmother (chuckle)!”
Barbara Jo began working out in January with weights. She's been galloping and will begin breezing this week at Fairmount Park in St. Louis, MO. She says she actually feels pretty good. “Each day I gallop I remember more, but it's
amazing how my body just doesn't react the way it used to. ”

Mary Wiley Wagner is a breast cancer survivor. She underwent her last chemo treatment in November and is well on her way to being fit to race. She hopes that if «one woman newly diagnosed with Cancer can look at what I am about to
accomplish and feel positive about light at the end of treatment, it is worth every single minute I've devoted to this. Mary has been galloping and breezing at Laurel Park in Laurel, MD.

According to Director/Producer Jason Neff, “I’ve watched these women train. They are working hard at getting fit and their competitive spirit is stronger than ever.”

Producer Linda Ellman who Directed and Produced “On Native Soil: The Documentary of the the 911 Commission Report,” which made the short list for an Oscar nomination, says JOCK is both an action film and an empowerment story: “This race
and the film explore what happens when perseverance and passion collide.”
About the Director: Director Neff is no stranger to the horse racing world. He grew up on a horse farm and at the racetrack. His uncle (Don MacBeth) and father (Myles Neff) were both jockeys and both of his grandfathers were horse trainers. Says Neff, “It’s always been my desire to recognize these women for what they accomplished and what they had to go through to get there. It’s a classic underdog story that’s historically significant beyond the racetrack."

One last thing and request. Anyone out there who would like to help on this one?

Diane Crump as stated below is the first woman to ride in the Derby. She had a horrible accident and is struggling with brain damage, but fighter that she is, she's still thankfully with us.

This from Jason:

"Also, this is the 40th Anniversary of the first woman to ride in the KY Derby....Diane Crump. We're trying to find a Sponsor to bring her
to the KY Derby. We thought it might be nice for a Sponsor (with
clients) to want to spend the Derby with Diane. You know, a special one of a kind, kind of event. I'd also like to film it. Mrs. Brown, who was the owner that put Diane on Fathom in the 1970 Derby is still alive. I'd love to shoot a moment with the two of them as well as drum up some tv publicity while NBC and ESPN are there. It could really help lead into the Lady Legends Race two weeks later.
Churchill Downs is not calling back. So, I'm looking for other ways to make this happen"

Final thought: I mention above that this is history, but as I re-read this, I also have to come back to the reality of the sad state this great industry is in at this moment. I've expounded before on what I felt the reasons are for this and the possible cures, but please also consider this. The history of horse racing is rich with countless rag-to-riches stories. It's full of scoundrels and cads, Runyanistic characters and good hard working honest people. Unfortunately, the industry as a whole has failed in almost every level, especially in keeping the sport in front of the people.

My God! The stories that are there to be told if someone would just make the attempt. Look at Seabiscuit. That movie was a good hit and people responded, if only for a looksee. We have the Secretariat movie as well as a TV series with Dustin Hoffman coming up. But it can't stop with a few movies! This industry desperately needs more people like Jason and Linda Ellman. Look at the blogs. Folks like John Pricci, Bill Christine and the others who love the sport dearly and try their utmost to inform the public.

But where are the leaders of the industry on this? Where are the corporate heads that seem not to care about the customer anymore? Example: Where is a Churchill Downs when it comes to something like what Jason is trying to organize for Diane Crump? It is up to the entire industry to keep the traditions and the grandeur of this sport alive! Kudos to the great folks at Pimlico for putting on a race like this on one of their most important days! And how about Charles Cella up at Oaklawn, a man who was willing to put five million up out of his pocket to stage what was hoped to be a race for the ages. People talked about that! WHERE ARE THE REST OF YOU? We must reach out before it's to late!

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