I have a freelance assignment for a new publication in Cincinnati and one of my first two assignments is to profile someone in sports. Sports! I still call Brian’s basketball card collection baseball cards because what’s the difference anyway?
I am only interested in one sport and that’s horse racing. I was the only 5th grader I knew who subscribed to Bloodhorse magazine (thanks to cousin Patsy who worked there and slipped me a subscription). Kentucky Derby was better than Christmas — I got to watch the horses all day. I read Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series and dreamed of riding a race horse myself. I wish I still had the picture I drew when I was 9 for the “I have a dream contest” in my school system. The picture showed a smiling Dana perched on a horse that had just crossed the finish line at Churchill Downs to win the Kentucky Derby. (I won a savings bond for that entry by the way, a bond I promptly cashed in as soon as I could to buy a bicycle.) That was right around the time Patricia Cooksey became the second woman to ever ride in the Derby.
While I sat in my room and wrote imaginary race cards then pretended to be aboard one or other of my made-up mount, Patricia was riding for real and fighting for every mount in the (understatement ahead) male-dominated world.
How cool, then, to have a chance to talk with her! She kindly agreed to let me interview her when I persisted by email and phone. As a nobody beginning freelancer, I consider myself super lucky to talk to an honet to goodness legend. I was nervous beginning the interview, I mean have a look at some of her accomplishments:
Cooksey became the second woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. … was the first woman to ride in the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown … She was the first woman to win a $100,000.00 stakes race in California … . She was also the first female jockey to win a stakes race at Churchill Downs … and currently holds the record for most wins by a female jockey at Churchill.
But she was so easy to talk to and had such fantastic stories that I halfway forgot I was even interviewing her (other than the fact that I hustled to write down some of her gems of quotes — “The horse flipped over the gate and all I was hooves flying everywhere”)
Listening to her stories, and hearing the about the exhilaration of riding these beautiful, powerful horses to victory took me right back to my ten-year old self that wanted nothing more than to be a jockey.
On the other hand, also hearing how tough you have to be, especially as a woman in the sport, reminds me that working with a pen (ok, a mouse and keyboard) is a lot less painful. She broke both her legs in a race, fought the male jockeys (and I actually mean fistfights), and had to fight for every mount. Mental and physical pain are part of the package. So I don’t guess I’ll actually consider a career change at this junction, but I did like her suggestion that I work early mornings at the track “walking the hots.” If I could actually get out of bed in time to be at the track by 4:30 that is … and I’m not even that tough.
Want to know more about Patricia Cooksey and the other women who fought their way to the top of racing? Watch Jock, a documentary about female jockeys when it comes out next year.