Taylor Rice sat completely still aboard 3-year-old Giggle Fit in the stretch of Presque Isle Downs on Sunday … except for her head, which kept turning back to see the field one, two, three and three-quarters lengths behind her. It was Rice's first start as a jockey, but she may as well have been looking back at her family's history in the racing business.
Rice is the daughter of trainer, blacksmith and former jockey Wayne Rice; her aunt is famed conditioner Linda Rice. Both her brothers are former jockeys and trainers; Kevin conditions Giggle Fit for her grandfather, trainer Clyde Rice.
Wayne Rice estimates that Taylor is the fifth or sixth Rice to be a jockey-and the third generation on the track.
He recalled being at home in Antigo, Wis., (also the birthplace of D. Wayne Lukas, a close family friend) during the 100th anniversary of the town's fire department. While reading an article on the event, Wayne Rice spotted a familiar figure.
“In the article, they showed pictures—it was my great-grandfather who drove the team to pull the fire wagon—and at the bottom of the article there was a picture of him hooking the wagon. In the caption it said 'Guy Rice, from a long line of good horsemen.' That's in 1908!” he said. “This didn't happen by accident.”
These days, there are enough Rices in racing to fill a Rice Krispies Treat—Clyde's brother Don was a well-known trainer until his death in a farm accident in 2008. Don's children include owner/trainer Kitty Cheeks, and former jockeys Kim Wingo and Tori Hoppel. Clyde's sister, Kaye Prough, trained in the late 1970's and 80's. Wayne's siblings all spent time in the saddle or in the barns and Wayne, 52, still breezes his own string of 30 together with longtime girlfriend and jockey Arienne Cox.
For the Rice crew, Thoroughbreds are clearly in the blood.
“Horses are addictive,” said Jean Rice, Clyde's wife. “There was no pressure from anybody that [our kids] had to do this, but I don't think that anybody really thought of anything else.”
Over the years, Wayne said everyone but Taylor grew too big to make a jockey's weight. Taylor stands at five feet and weighs 105 pounds, and according to Wayne, the varsity volleyball, basketball, and softball player “has been fighting these wars because that's who she is and what she wants to do.”
Now, he pointed out, Taylor's competition is finally her size.
When asked if it makes him nervous to see his children go whizzing by on the back of a Thoroughbred at 40 miles per hour, Wayne thinks for a moment.
“I think they're safer on a horse than they are on the ground,” he said. “We run more risk driving our cars every day, I think, driving on the highway full of idiots texting on their cell phones. I would rather try to be living life to the fullest.”
Wayne took time away from the track to raise his children in Ocala, Fla., where he got into the pinhooking business. The Rice kids grew up on the farm alongside the horses and spent hours in the saddle breaking young horses, doing barrel racing, team roping and jumping.
Taylor, who has “dabbled” in training as well, recently graduated from Florida State University. Although she's set on being a jockey, she said she wanted to have a fall-back option if she gets hurt or tired of the starting gates. In the meantime, she has the benefits of several generations of riders willing to pass their wisdom along to her.
“The advice for all the kids when they were getting ready to ride was, 'You need to be ready when you get out there for that first race, because everybody will be watching. If you're not ready and it shows, they're going to write you off real quick.' Taylor was ready,” said Jean.
“Everybody's had lots of advice to give me. The main one's my dad,” said Taylor. “He was an awesome rider in his day, and we sat down beforehand and watched races and talked about it all. He just says, 'Have fun.'”
Coming from a family that's so entrenched in the business comes with its own sorts of pressure, though.
“I refused to go out there and look like I'd never done it before,” said Taylor. With the family I come from, everybody's watching and there's no way I could go out there and not put on at least my best showing.
“The racetrack here is a pretty small community. Everybody's been asking me when I was going to ride … they said the crowd that day was probably bigger than the crowd any of the stakes races we had. Everybody was out there to cheer me on. It was pretty amazing.”
In such a small community, it's also tough to avoid running into each other in the afternoons.
“Life is running by really fast, and I look at my own children with their trainers license, racing horses,” said Wayne.
“My two boys have outrun me three, four times in the last month. It used to be a novelty—'Hey you can outrun me, that's pretty neat'—but I'm getting a little tired of it lately. It's happening a little more often than I'd like,” he chuckled. “But on the other hand, it's neat.”
Mostly, the Rices all say having such extensive family involvement is a good thing. No matter what their horses need, one of them can help.
“We don't have any dentists, though. But we do everything else,” mused Taylor, who noted that her extended family is still involved in sales in Ocala, and one of them is a veterinarian. “If we needed it done, my brother would grab a file and get in there if he needed to.”
Just give them time.
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