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That Wonderful Filly Shows The Big Boys

By Staff | May 20, 2009

What better time that this, The Year of the Woman, that a filly wins the race. Not since 1924 has a girl horse been able to beat the boys.

I have had more fun at horse races than any other sport. I started going to races with my dad was I was quite young. My dad loved going to the Pennsboro Fair each summer. I doubt if he ever put any money on the horses, but he certainly enjoyed the races. And it may not have even been legal to bet on horses there. That part I don’t remember.

Years later, my next experience with racing was at Aqueduct Race Track in New York. I had meet a friend who owned some horses that ran at that track. To say it was a bit different from the Pennsboro Track would be putting it mildly. We went by limo to that track. Sat in Owners Boxes and had all the amenities offered to owners.

My next experiences, and probably the best, were at Sallisaw, Okla. I worked with a friend whose father owned and raced horses there. It was on his horse ranch that I learned many of the behind the scenes goings on of horse racing.

Not only did her father own horses, but also her two brothers were jockeys. The family had been in the business many years.

The first weekend we went down to the ranch I was introduced to her family as a person who did not know the head of the horse from his behind. That certainly changed over the next five years.

The first Friday evening we were at the ranch, I not only met her family, but the leading money winner jockey at that time. “Bobby” rode all of their horses. My friend Sandy probably thought I would provide the entertainment that evening, since I knew nothing about horses, and all the conversations would be about following day’s races.

I must confess she was right. The Fosters had invited their jockey over for dinner that evening, her two brothers were also invited for the evening. I am quite sure a discussion had taken place about my arrival. Since I had met Sandy’s mother, I knew it would be a fun evening, even if it would be at my expense.

My first shock was how small the three jockeys were. Her father, being a big man, dwarfed the riders.

Each of the three jockeys weighed 111 pounds. The top weight then for a rider was 126 pounds. They were small in statue too. But they lacked nothing in personality.

I didn’t realize what a dangerous sport racing was until that first visit. The conversations at one point centered around all the injuries the three men had sustained.

I am sure many of the rules have changed in racing since those fun years. I do know the money has certainly increased for the riders. The security has changed also. But when one thinks about the size of the horse, and the size of the rider, you can only imagine the damage when the horse falls on them.

Sandy had not mentioned that I had a weekly newspaper to the men, so I quizzed them to no end. They openly talked about their profession with me.

As the men’s conversations got around to the next day’s racing, they produced a sheet of paper containing all the races, horses, and riders for each of the races. Bobby was going to “jockey up” on four horses, three of which were Mr. Foster’s. Sandy’s brothers would not be in as many races, nor riding horses with a winning record as Bobby. This seemed to be a touchy topic, so that particular discussion didn’t last long.

The men did not stay late. They did say as they were leaving, “See you all in the morning.”

I had no idea they meant at 4 a.m. the following morning. I agreed with Sandy, I would get up to see them at 4 a.m. Having no idea what or why this would take place.

The next morning, five jockeys arrived on their regularly scheduled coffee stop. I was taken aback by their change in attitude. They were strictly business. It would be a muddy track that day. That could change all the odds. As they drank their coffee, each discussed the horses he would be riding, but did not discuss his plans of how he would ride. In several of the day’s races those men would be competing against each other.

After their coffee break they all headed for the track. Each jockey would work out the horse or horses he would be riding that day.

Bobby seemed pleased with the horses he would be riding. Others seemed not so pleased.

I learned if they did not finish in the money, they would earn $35 per ride to “jockey up.” Most jockeys wear pantyhose when it is chilly. They are warm and weigh little, on a muddy track, some jockeys wear as many as nine pair of goggles, before race if over the 126 pounds, jockeys have to go into hot workout to sweat the pounds off, if underweight, weights are placed under the saddles.

There is a trick to getting a small electric shock off the jockey’s wrist. These were not legal. If a judge was checking at the end of the race, word was passed from jockey to jockey, those wearing this would fall safely off their horse, and make sure the shocker would stay in the dirt.

Jockeys didn’t like women jockeys, and were know to “bump” them in a race. Jockeys cannot place a bet themselves, but many have them placed for them. Some drugs were not visible in the urine tests. The jockeys did not get their pay until the tests for drugs come back. The jockeys didn’t eat until after the day’s races, and some purged their food soon after eating.

Even though Bobby did not know I was writing, and getting him to give me inside tips, I learned so much from him. When he did find out I was writing about the life of a jockey, he made me promise I would not write the story.

On another weekend we went to the ranch during coffee time, Bobby was discussing one of the horses he would be riding. He said to me, don’t waste your money on this horse; I doubt he will get around the track.

Being the only one there that was not a horse person, (just horse racing), but I knew he was the leading jockey at the time. When it was time for that particular race, I quietly went to the betting window and bet on him to bring the horse in second.

Even though it was a long shot, and I had been informed it would not be a good bet, my own feeling was if he was the leading jockey, surely he could bring a bad horse in second.

At that time one could go to the rail and talk with the jockeys. So after that particular race, Bobby rode over to the rail to talk with Sandy and me. I said, “Well, how did you do?” He laughingly told me, “Second”. I grinned and he said, “You didn’t.” But I had! As I counted the money I won on that race, it was decided I would buy dinner that night. I then told him, if he was as good as his record, he could bring the horse in second. Sandy laughed as I bought dinner.

Before every race, we went down to the paddock. I had no idea why, but I went along. Sandy studied the racing forms and I looked at names of rider, trainers, or the horse’s names. I went to the winner’s window many more times than her. She never did figure out my techniques. I think they were just too simple for her horse life. Perhaps it helps to know what that horse did in races past, but I didn’t care a thing about that. If I associated any names with anyone involved with the horse, I bet on it. Only once did I give her a tip. A horse whose name was Tip the Glass was running. Since Sandy did that quite often, I suggested she bet on that horse. Did she do it? No. The horse won the race, and that was my last tip giving.

Last Saturday in my own living room, my cat had to go to my basement. He didn’t like all the yelling I was doing as I watched that horse race. I just knew that filly would show those big boys, she had the right stuff. And I also knew she knew this is The Year of the Women. I certainly told her enough about that as I sat on the edge of my chair, watching her glide over the finish line.