Women in Racing
This 60 Minutes segment on Rosie Napravnik may be the first coverage of the jockey (who’s riding Mylute in the Kentucky Derby) I’ve seen this spring that doesn’t remind me of Freddy Rumsen telling Don Draper that Peggy Olsen’s insight into the Belle Jolie campaign “was like watching a dog play the piano.”
Go ahead, joke, “There is a filly in the Derby. The thing is this one has two legs, not four.” Wonder, “Can a woman win the Kentucky Derby?” Say, “You can almost classify her as just ‘jockey,’ now.” Because Napravnik can ride: She’s 25, and she’s won the Kentucky Oaks and a Breeders’ Cup race within the last year. So far, in 2013, only Joel Rosario has won more races than Napravnik; only four other jockeys have won more money. And she has the right attitude:
“There still are owners and trainers that don’t want to ride a female. The only way that I deal with that is, you know, to try to beat that person in a race, beat that trainer or owner in a race.”
Napravnik might not be on the Derby winner this Saturday, but she’ll be on a Kentucky Derby winner before her career ends. Bet on it.
3:30 PM Addendum: Napravnik tells Byron King she’s pleased with how the 60 Minutes interview turned out: “They did an excellent job with it.”
In her remarks at the September 30 Thoroughbred Club of America dinner honoring her, Penny Chenery acknowledged a predecessor:
“I knew Isabel Dodge Sloan,” Chenery said. “I was scared of her. I saw her at the racetrack all the time and I never saw her open her purse.”
The first woman to top the leading owners list by earnings — in 1934, the same year her colt Calvacade won the Kentucky Derby — Dodge Sloan was the subject of a Claire Novak story for Kentucky Confidential in 2011.
“Racing and breeding horses are to me many things,” she said when she was honored by the TCA in 1951. “They are my hobby, my business, my pleasure and almost my entire life.”
Dodge Sloan was the first female honoree of the TCA; Chenery is the third. That’s in 81 years — as Chenery said, “Come on, guys.”
Suffolk Downs has been welcoming to women jockeys for years (in 1974, the late Denise Boudrot became the first female rider to win a meet title at a major track when she rode 94 winners as an apprentice*), but the seven-member East Boston lady riders’ colony is particularly strong this summer:
When Vicky Baze was riding at Suffolk last month, the women’s jocks’ room contained the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-winningest female riders of all time and three of the top four active women jockeys. Piermarini, fourth with 2.129 wins; Baze, fifth with 2,098 wins; and Jellison, sixth at 1,856 account for more than 6,000 wins together, and Piermarini entered Wednesday just eight wins behind Patti Cooksey for third on the all-time list behind Julie Krone and Rosemary Homeister.
Tammi Piermarini, the track’s leading rider the past three years, is currently leading the standings; Jackie Davis is running second.
Local photographer Bud Morton has been documenting Suffolk’s riding women — this photo, of Piermarini and Davis breaking from the gate, is really good. (The expressions on their faces!)
*Enjoy this Sports Illustrated profile of Boudrot from 1974: “At Suffolk almost every jockey has been beaten by Denise, and they have learned to live with it, which is not an easy thing for these little men who have discovered a place of their own in a big person’s world.” Boudrot died in 2010, at age 57.
7/23/12 Addendum: Congratulations! With three wins at Suffolk Downs today, “Piermarini becomes third-leading woman rider.”
In March 1969, Diane Crump* became the first female jockey to ever win an American stakes race, taking the Spring Fiesta Cup aboard $21 Easy Lime at the Fair Grounds. On Saturday, Anna “Rosie” Napravnik became the first female rider to win the G2 Louisiana Derby at the same historic track:
Outside the ring of people pressing to get close to her and beyond the insistent clamor of the television cameras, there arose cries of “Rosie.” And there she stood, in the middle of the turbulence, smiling somewhat sheepishly, as if not entirely comfortable with the attention and the outpouring of congratulatory emotion, horse racing’s latest, if somewhat unexpected, star …
Those who have followed the 23-year-old since her start on the Mid-Atlantic circuit in 2005 probably wouldn’t call her new-found stardom unexpected — it seemed only matter of time before people caught on to “the Napravnik magic … that makes horses run like they never have before.” New Orleans horsemen are now well acquainted with the skill and talent (not magic) possessed by the rising jockey, apparent from early in the meet:
… with the young woman from the East Coast becoming the go-to rider for a group of hardened, middle-aged Louisiana trainers. Napravnik’s inroads into this group owe much to her agent, Derek Ducoing, the son of local trainer Sturges Ducoing, who has put Napravnik on eight winners at the meet through Feb. 7. Napravnik also has gone 5 for 13 for native New Orleanian Eddie Johnston and 4 for 14 for another local trainer, Andy Leggio….
“Julie Krone was one of the great female jockeys, and I think this kid is going to be one also,” Leggio said. “She just does everything right.”
If she keeps it up, Napravnik will be one of the great riders of either sex.
In addition to her Louisiana Derby win, Napravnik made history as the first female rider to top the Fair Grounds standings, with 86 wins (13 stakes). Nationally, she currently ranks #4 by earnings and #2 by wins, and plans to ride at Keeneland next month before returning to Delaware. Will a stop at Churchill come between? Trainer Kelly Breen said that Louisiana Derby winner Pants on Fire is pointing to the Kentucky Derby after his Saturday surprise.
The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated. Beyer speed figures of 94 for Pants on Fire, 91 for Animal Kingdom in the Spiral Stakes, 90 for Twice the Appeal in the Sunland Derby.
At Oaklawn yesterday, Arienza made it 2-for-2 and now points to the Fantasy. “It may be a little ambitious trying to come back in two weeks,” said trainer Danny Peitz, “but we certainly don’t want to rule that out.” Azeri’s daughter by Giant’s Causeway got the final eighth of the one-mile allowance in a superb :12.19, confidently rebuffing runner-up Hidatsa in the stretch.
And at Palm Meadows, Uncle Mo breezed four furlongs in :49.45, taking dirt as part of his training. (Well, if he’s not going to get that experience in racing …)
*Crump was also the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifteenth on Fathom in 1970. Owned by Louisville whiskey baron W.L. Lyons Brown, Fathom was one of six field horses entered in that year’s Derby, and not a well-regarded contender, with or without a female jockey. “If she were riding a good horse, I wouldn’t mind betting on her,” a handicapper told the New York Times. “But her horse isn’t much good.”
Last year, I had a little fun with the view that women pretty up the racetrack, as expressed by trainer Louie Roussel and fellow blogger PowerCap. Today, TT news editor Ed DeRosa takes aim at a Churchill Downs banner ad that unfortunately plays not-so nicely on the same perspective. You have to go to his Big Event Blog to read about this marketing misstep (and to see the banner — I’m not going to post it here). His analysis of the ad is spot on; about all I can contribute is that equating women and horses is always disconcerting (at least to this woman), and adds to the overall creepiness of the banner.
Somewhat related, and on a more serious note, an anonymous hotwalker recently recounted a few startling, and all too plausible, experiences with men on the backstretch (via Sid Fernando). It’s one thing to brush off a lousy ad, it’s another to brush off an unwanted hand — and really, why should women have to do either to enjoy being at the track, whether as fans or workers? [That reminds me of a Railbird oldie-but-goodie: "Here's a She-Tip for You, Andy Stronach." For the record, the She-Tipsters were never deployed.]
To round out the post, here’s a profile of New York trainer Linda Rice, which includes the following relevant anecdote:
She turned to her dad and confessed, “I want to be a trainer, just like you.”
Clyde Rice measured his response before speaking it. He told her, “That … would be a lot easier if you were one of my sons.”
Ain’t that the truth. And in racing, clearly, not only about a career in training.
July 7, 1934 … Mary Hirsch became the first female to be licensed as a Thoroughbred trainer, in Illinois. Hirsch subsequently was licensed in Michigan that year and two years later, on April 9, she was licensed by The Jockey Club to train in New York.
Hirsch, known as “Miss Mary” and described as a “frail-looking, sad-eyed” young woman with modest hopes by Time Magazine in April 1935, was the daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch, who conditioned Sarazen, 1924-25 Horse of the Year, and Assault, the 1946 Triple Crown winner. He’s also known for losing Stymie, eventual champion and winner of almost $1 million in earnings, as a juvenile in a $1500 claiming race.
Nothing so dramatic, won or lost, would mark Miss Mary’s career, but she did have the distinction of being the first female trainer to saddle a horse in the Kentucky Derby. No Sir, a well-bred stakes-winning gelding owned by Hirsch, finished 13th in the 1937 run for the roses, which was won that year by War Admiral. She also became the first female trainer to win the Travers, with a horse named Thanksgiving, in 1938, a year in which she won 18 races and $26,210, “a record not equaled by scores of men trainers,” wrote Charles B. Parmer in “For Gold and Glory,” a history of American thoroughbred racing published in 1939. The author not only admired Hirsch as a trainer, but for what a good sport she could be, as exemplified by this story:
A standing alibi on the race track, when a good horse loses, is for the owner to announce: the jockey didn’t give my horse a good ride. Mary Hirsch endeared herself to the jockey colony one day, when she climbed the stairs into the press box. One of her horses had lost a race the day before: the newspapers said the jockey had given him a poor ride. Mary said: “You chaps are all wrong. The boy rode to my orders — the horse just couldn’t make it.”
In 1936, Hirsch helped her father win his first Kentucky Derby by sending 18-year-old Ira Hanford, her apprentice jockey, to ride Bold Venture. The colt paid $43 to upset; Hanford was suspended 15 days for rough riding.
In advance of a possible piece on the Lady Legends race, in which eight retired female jockeys will ride in the fourth race at Pimlico on Friday to benefit the Komen Foundation, I’ve been doing a bit of research on women jockeys in American racing. With the library packed up in preparation for a move, making it difficult to get to “The Lady Is a Jock” and other sources, I’m relying on what I can find through Google, the New York Times, and the DRF Archive at Keeneland, which yielded an interesting tidbit about an early “jockette.”
In January, I came across Miss Milfred, a young woman looking for work as a jockey in 1892 Chicago. Nothing more has turned up on Frances Milfred, but in 1898, there appears a Mrs. Bagwill. Notes the DRF of October 4:
Probably the only female jockey in the world is riding in running races on the Pacific Coast circuit. She is a Mrs. Bagwill, twenty-four years old, weight 101 pounds, and resides at Carson City, Nev. At the recent Nevada State Fair she won two of her five mounts. Mrs. Bagwill wears the regulation jockey costumes in races and rides astride.
The October 9, 1898 Kansas City Journal fills in a few more details, although, not her first name:
Six horses, straining every nerve and splendidly ridden by some of the best jockeys of this country, raced swiftly around the track at Reno, Nev., at the last meeting, and came down the stretch in magnificent style. Of the three horses first under the wire the last was ridden by a woman who, sitting astride, plied whip and spur in masterly style, and clearly outrode her competitors.
The woman was Mrs. Bagwill, a native of Nevada, who is probably the only female jockey in the world.
Her experience as a jockey has not been very extensive, but of the five races in which she has ridden twice has her horse come in a winner, and never has she ridden “outside” the money.
Mrs. Bagwill’s first attempt was at Carson City, when she rode third to Coates, sometimes known as “Pizen,” and Feathergill.
Mrs. Bagwill is 24 years of age and has been married for five years. She is of medium stature, petite in figure, but well proportioned and weighs 101 pounds. She is very modest and unassuming. When on the street, she dresses in plain black and from her appearance none would imagine that she ever assumed the part of a jockey.
She had an ambition to assist her husband, and being a good rider, decided that she could be more successful as a jockey than at anything else. In the saddle when ready for a race she wears bifurcated skirts, but fitting neatly.
And with that, Mrs. Bagwill, like Miss Milfred, recedes from history.
From the Saint Paul Daily Globe, August 10, 1892:
CHICAGO, ILL., Aug. 9. — Frances Milfred would like to be a jockey. She is from Missouri and knows how to handle a horse. Being fond of outdoor exercise and a lover of excitement, she is determined to do something besides play the typewriter or call “cash.” She is now visiting Chicago, and will not return to St. Joe unless she fails to secure a position with some owner of fast horses. It is her ambition to come down the stretch in a whipping finish and land her horse about two lengths ahead of Fox, Goodale, Overton, Penny and other slim-waisted young men who think they can ride.
Miss Milfred, after coming to Chicago a month ago, visited Washington Park and watched the flyers for several successive days. She lost $13.50 in cash ventures, but discovered a new sphere for women. The more she watched the races the more firmly she became convinced that she could learn to ride as well as any one else. Once she had been in the Kiralfy chorus and had made only $10 a week. When she heard that jockeys often made $100 for winning one race, that settled it.
Saturday evening the following “ad” appeared in one of the papers:
LADY aged twenty-five, from West, good rider, would like to learn to be a jockey. Address S. B. 84.
An encouraging letter addressed to S. B. 84 brought a reply that Miss Frances Milfred would be at home Monday at No. 17 Upton Street. There she was found, in the bottom flat, a brown-haired, slim young lady of pleasant features and a desire to explain her ambition.
“In the first place, my weight is all right,” said she. “With me it is a serious matter. I want to do something to make a living, and believe I would make a good jockey. Ever since I can remember I have been accustomed to handling horses. Four years ago I was counted the best rider in St. Joe, and once I won a race at a county fair. Do you see any reason why a young lady should not be a jockey? No. Neither do I. My folks would object, of course, but if I don’t succeed here I’m going East and try it.”
The original “jockette”?