Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Women in Racing

Dans La Famille

Ryan Goldberg profiles the remarkable Criquette Head-Maarek:

… as far back as the age of 5, Head-Maarek said, she told her father she wanted to be a trainer. “One day he said to me, ‘You marry a trainer, but you won’t be a trainer because there are no women trainers,”’ she recalled.

But in 1978, after four years as her father’s assistant, Head-Maarek was granted a training license by the French racing authorities, the first for a woman. Her father gave her 35 of his own horses, and success quickly followed. Owners such as Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the late emir of Dubai, sent her horses. She remains the only woman to train an Arc winner.

(This part of her story reminds me a bit of trainer Linda Rice:

A proud “my father’s daughter,” she’s the youngest of trainer Clyde Rice’s four children and the only girl. She began helping at her dad’s stable in grammar school. She walked horses, then exercised them. At 17, as they drove back from a Keeneland horse sale, a major accident blocked their route for hours.

That’s when Rice revealed her career path. 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 career would be a lot easier if you were one of my sons.”

Rice won the Easy Goer Stakes with Kid Cruz, eighth in the Preakness Stakes and a former $50K claimer, on Belmont Stakes day.)

More Head-Maarek in the Guardian: “We’ll take my Rolls-Royce …

More Than Strength

Diane Crump reflects on her pioneering career as a jockey with Mary Simon, and the debate over whether women are strong enough to ride in races:

“You know what? None of us is that strong when compared to a horse. It’s the feel you have for them that matters. If you can get along with them, relate to them, those are the things that make you a horse person and a rider. Brute strength has no relevance at all …”

Or as Julie Krone, another rider who accomplished a number of firsts for women in racing, told Ed Zieralski recently:

“I know one thing. It takes both genders to ride a racehorse, the feminine for soft and subtle, and the masculine for strong and effective.”

Aspire to Win, Girls!

Unlimited Budget is among the 14 contenders entered in the Belmont Stakes. Someone should read “Lean In” to the filly before Saturday, apparently:

“It takes a special filly [to win a Triple Crown race], one that is willing to stare down the boys and say, ‘No, this one is mine,’ ” said Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “It’s so much about personalities and intimidation when these horses match up. I think it’s the same reason women don’t have as much, and the same kind of success, as men in the workplace.”

Three fillies have won the Belmont, out of 22 starters. That’s not such a bad record — only 141 colts or geldings have won, out of more than 1200.

Rosie Napravnik has the mount on Unlimited Budget, which makes her the first female jockey to ride in all three Triple Crown races in the same year. That’s wonderful, if also a reminder of the progress still to be made, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Julie Krone’s history-making Belmont win.

Meanwhile, at Suffolk Downs —

Elusive Son
Elusive Son (inside) outfinishes Step Brother in the first turf race of the meet.

Tammi Piermarini, the leading rider at Suffolk for the past three years, tops the jockey standings again after three days of racing, with five wins from 19 starts. Gary Wales and Andria Terrill are tied for second with four wins apiece. Piermarini’s first win of the meet came in race two on opening day with Broadway Hat, shipping in for trainer David Jacobson. The once-pricey auction purchase obviously found his level, taking the maiden $5K by four lengths. Trainer Ambrose Pascucci made the claim, the only one so far this summer.

Piermarini’s second win came in race six on the same day with Elusive Son, whose thrilling by-a-neck victory over Step Brother withstood a stewards’ inquiry into a little stretch bumping. The first of her two wins on Wednesday’s card offered a different kind of thrill — Mister Dixie, a 5-year-old gelding making his first start since July 2012, won race two by 12 1/2 lengths in :57 3/5, a tick off Rene Depot’s 1972 :57 2/5 track record for five furlongs.

Another rider, Jordano Tunon, scored the biggest upset of the meet yet when he won race six on Wednesday with Lapantalones Fance, the longest shot in a field of 10, paying $87.20 to win. While that might have been the highest win price of the week, it wasn’t the first time since Saturday that exotic payouts have been high enough to trigger the new, onerous 5% tax on winning bets paying over $600 instituted by a 2011 change in Massachusetts law (and affecting only Massachusetts residents). “[T]his is a dealbreaker for Mass. horseplayers,” tweeted one. Per a notice in the Suffolk program, track management is working on a fix. Get in touch to support their effort.

6/7/13 Addendum: Jay Hovdey on the 1993 Belmont Stakes: “It has been 20 years since Colonial Affair emerged from the gloom of a rainy New York afternoon to carry Julie Krone and the colors of Centennial Farms to victory in the 125th running of the Belmont …”

Rosie’s Ride

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.”

Breaking the Boy’s Club

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.”

The Girls’ Room

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.”

Napravnik on Fire

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.”

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