Fourteen years after her last win, Mary Wiley-Wagner was in the winner's circle again, this time aboard Sonata Brae for trainer Tim Keefe in Friday afternoon's finale at Laurel Park in Maryland. But a lot has transpired in between those victories.
Wiley-Wagner, now 47, is a cancer survivor. The wife of Maryland Jockey Club starter Bruce Wagner had her last chemotherapy session just over two years ago, and she returned to the saddle last spring in the inaugural Lady Legends for the Cure Race, a special pari-mutuel contest featuring retired female jockeys. After finishing fourth in the Lady Legends, Wiley-Wagner was determined to make a comeback. In August she tried to ride full time, but mounts were hard to come by. She had just 16 mounts in four months.
After Friday's victory, she announced that she was heading back into retirement.
“It is hard to walk away but I am just not getting the opportunities,” said Wiley-Wagner. “I don't feel like I am embarrassing myself but this isn't an individual sport and if I don't have the support of the trainers and owners, it is time.”
Wiley-Wagner was among the top five apprentice riders in the nation in 1987 with 148 victories.
“I knew I had the horse on the front end measured and felt confident we were going to cross the line first,” Wiley-Wagner said of Friday's ride. “It was neat the win happened with Tim's horse. He has supported me more than anybody. There is someone who is buying the rights to my story and I needed to get the win or the story would not have an ending.”
“Two years ago Wednesday was my final chemo treatment and my goal was to get the win before that one year was up. I missed it by two days,” added Wiley-Wagner. “It has been a lot of fun. My girls are going to be thrilled. They and Bruce have been so supportive. There have been times I wanted to quit and he told me to quit on my terms.”
Wiley-Wagner will be part of the not yet announced Lady Legends 2 that will be held on May 20, 2011, at Pimlico.
“I had to retire to be eligible,” joked Wiley-Wagner. “I can't tell you how many cancer survivors have been in touch with me on Facebook and said 'I quit doing A,B and C because the cancer treatments kicked my butt, but if you can get on horses again I can do A,B and C again.' There are going to be so many cool messages when I get home. That means it all.”
Wiley-Wagner re-retires with 276 lifetime wins from 2,654 mounts for earnings of $2,716,900.
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