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Women in Horse Racing

Updated: 02/21/03

Jenine Sahadi
Jenine Sahadi's reaction to becoming the first woman trainer to win a Breeders' Cup race
Women have always played an important role in racing even though it is traditionally considered a male dominated sport. Many of the top owners of the past were women: Rosa Hoots (owned Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold), Mrs. John D. Hertz (owner of Stoner Creek Farm and Triple Crown winner Count Fleet), Helen Hay Whitney (known as the "First Lady of the Turf" and owner of two Derby winners), Lucille Wright Markey (owner of Calumet Farm after her husband's death and responsible for 4 Derby winners), Penny Chenery (owner of Secretariat), Diana Firestone (owner of Genuine Risk), and Frances Genter (owner of Derby winner Unbridled). Many of the most influential owners now are women like Jenny Craig, Beverly Lewis, Virginia Kraft Payson, and Madeleine Paulson. Although we are not as well known, Cyberspace Racing Team was started by a woman, Toni Richardson, and has many women partners including me as well as two women trainers.

There have also been many fine women trainers like Mary Hirsch (pioneering woman trainer and daughter of famed trainer Max Hirsch), Mary Keim (only woman trainer of a Kentucky Oaks winner), Diana Carpenter (second in the Belmont with Kingpost), Shelley Riley (second in the Derby and third in the Preakness with Casual Lies), and of course Jenine Sahadi (winner of the Breeders Cup Sprint twice). Where women trainers used to be a bit rare, they are now quite commonplace at the track today and seem to get more and more of the better horses.

Female jockeys only burst on the scene in 1969 when Diane Crump became the first woman jockey to ride in a parimutuel race in North America. That same year, Barbara Jo Rubin became the first woman jockey to win race and Tuesdee Testa became the first female jockey to win a race at a major American Thoroughbred track. Diane now trains on the Kentucky circuit and occasionally rides one of her own horses. Patricia Cooksey has been very successful as have Donna Barton and Andrea Seefeldt but the epitome of success has to be Julie Krone. She is the all time leading female jockey and was the first to win a classic when she took the 1991 Belmont on Colonial Affair. She had retired in 1999, but made a comeback in November 2002 and is successful once again, becoming the first woman to win a Grade 1 race in California in December. Success as a jockey isn't restricted to the Thoroughbreds either. One of the top Quarter Horse jockeys is Tami Purcell who has won most of the major races and ridden champions.

Although there are several successful women jockeys, this is still the area where discrimination shows up the most. Even the top lady jockeys seldom get the best horses and it is even worse for the average girl jock who has to struggle to get many mounts. Interestingly, they are often preferred as exercise riders in the morning while being snubbed for race mounts in the afternoon. It gets progressively better, but racing is still a male dominated sport at the top levels.

Reader comment:

I was a jockey for several years. I, like all female jockeys, had to fight for my mounts because I was a female. I had to work twice as hard as the guys. Anyway, because of a knee injury I had to quit. I am now a trainer and pony person. I have held every job on the track and as far as I am concerned if we are going to praise women, we need to praise the ones who really deserve it. The grooms and the exercise riders and the pony girls that take a beating every single day. The women who work their butts off for little pay. They don't get to see the lime light. The grooms are lucky to get a stake for a win or a win picture they are in. The pony girls go home sore every day from horses beating them up. I just think there are more women that need to be recognized other then jockeys, owners and trainers.

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Photo ©2003 Cindy Pierson Dulay, licensed to About.

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