For both the camaraderie and the cause, an elite group of retired champion female jockeys return to Old Hilltop on Friday, May 20, to compete in the Lady Legends for the Cure Race II at Pimlico Race Course.
Seventh on a 13-race card (post time 3:05 p.m. EST) anchored by the Grade 2 $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, the Lady Legends race is part of The People's Pink Party, a joint effort between Pimlico and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer organization, to help raise money and awareness in the fight against the disease.
Seventy-five percent of the funds raised will go to the Komen Maryland Affiliate to use for community outreach programs in Maryland. The remaining 25 percent will go toward breast cancer research.
“It feels great to be back again,” said Mary Wiley-Wagner, who finished fourth in last year's Lady Legends race. “It's an honor to ride with these women. And, being a breast cancer survivor, the Komen cause is near and dear to my heart.”
The inaugural Lady Legends event was the first pari-mutuel race featuring retired female riders. Profiled on NBC Sports, it was also filmed as the climatic ending to the feature length documentary in production, JOCK, chronicling the story of the first generation of lady jockeys.
Seven of the Lady Legends return from last year: Wiley-Wagner, the wife of Maryland Jockey Club starter Bruce Wagner who ranked among the country's top five apprentice riders in 1983 and briefly returned to competitive riding in 2010; Patti “PJ” Cooksey and Maryland's own Andrea Seefeldt-Knight, the only females to ride in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win a pari-mutuel race in the United States; Mary Russ-Tortora, the first female to win a Grade 1 stakes race; Cheryl White, the first African-American female rider; and Jennifer Rowland Small, the top pioneer female rider in Maryland during the 1970's.
They are joined this year by Abby Fuller, the first female jockey to sweep the New York filly Triple Crown in 1985 with Hall of Famer Mom's Command, bred and owned by her father, Peter Fuller.
“I'm definitely a huge fan of these women,” Fuller said. “I was probably about 9 or so when the first women started riding, so I'm very excited.”
Gwen Jocson won the inaugural Lady Legends race, her 764th career victory, aboard Honor in Peace. Jocson tore ligaments in her hand while exercising horses for trainer John Servis over the winter, and will not be able to defend her title, though she will be on hand to support the group.
Wiley-Wagner, 47, made a brief comeback to competitive riding following the Lady Legends race, racing in Maryland, at Delaware Park and Monmouth Park. She had two seconds and two thirds in 17 mounts, her lone win coming on Nov. 24, 2010 at Laurel Park, exactly 367 from her final chemotherapy treatment.
“I just didn't want to go away,” she said. “Having two daughters and being 47, I'm smart enough to know I'm not going to bounce back like I used to. I wanted to do it, but I wanted to mitigate the risk as much as possible.”
Wiley-Wagner is named on 9-to-5 morning-line favorite Mass Destruction in the $31,000 optional claiming allowance at six furlongs on the main track for 3-year-olds and up.
“It's great to be able to give back and set the example for my children that sometimes life kicks you in the butt, but we get up and use it as a learning experience and do what we can with it,” she said.
Fuller, 52, has fond memories of racing in Maryland. Mom's Command won the Grade 1 Selima Stakes at Laurel Park in 1984, and made her 3-year-old debut in the 1985 Flirtation Stakes at Pimlico, winning by 19 lengths after running six furlongs in 1:10 4/5.
“She absolutely aired,” Fuller said. “It was the only time she ran in the mud. In the stretch, I was like, 'How can I not hear anyone?' I took a peek back and I couldn't even see them. We knew she was good already, but that was like, 'Oh my gosh.' ”
Fuller won a career-high 145 races in 1985, and retired in 2002 with 579 career victories and $5.3 million in purses.
“I'm thrilled to meet Barbara Jo. I think she's amazing,” Fuller said. “I said, 'You know what? If she can do it, I've got to do this.' It's so cool.”
Seefeldt-Knight, 48, finished second in the inaugural Lady Legends race. The first female to win the Pennsylvania Derby aboard Valley Crossing ($158.60) in 1991, she retired in 1994 with 604 career wins.
“It was a lot easier to get fit this year than it was last year, going from a 16-year layoff to just a year layoff,” she said. “I've known most of the girls and ridden with most of them, so it was great to catch up with them again. It was great to ride with Barbara Jo Rubin, one of my idols. A few of us are survivors, and most of us have known someone that's had breast cancer. It's all for a good cause, and that's what we're doing it for.”
Russ-Tortora, 57, ran third in the 2010 Lady Legends race. She won the Widener Handicap on Feb. 27, 1982 aboard Lord Darnley at Hialeah, becoming the first woman to capture a Grade 1 race. She won 520 races and nearly $6 million in purses from 1980-94, and finished third in the 2010 Lady Legends race.
Like Wiley-Wagner, Cooksey, 53, is a breast cancer survivor. Fifth in the 2010 Lady Legends race, Cooksey ranks third all-time among female jockeys with 2,137 wins, retiring in 2004 with nearly $19.9 million in career purses.
Rubin, 61, finished sixth in the 2010 Lady Legends race. On Feb. 22, 1969, she became the first woman to win a race against males at a recognized track when she guided Cohesion to victory at Charles Town. That same year, she was the first woman named to ride in the Kentucky Derby, though her horse, Picnic Fair, was scratched before the race. Having overcome polio as a child, Rubin retired in January 1970 with 22 wins from 89 mounts.
After an injury ended her riding career in 1977 with 192 career wins, Rowland Small, 58, bred Touch of Class, a winner of two gold medals for jumping at the 1984 Olympics.
White, 57, made her riding debut on Ace Reward, a horse owned by her mother and trained by her father, Raymond White, who started two horses in the Kentucky Derby. A winner of five races on Oct. 19, 1983, White was also the first female steward at a California racetrack.
Friday's race will include $20,000 in bonus prizes. In addition to her earnings in the race, the winner will receive another $6,000. Other prize money: $4,000 (second), $3,000 (third), $2,500 (fourth), $1,500 (fifth) and $1,000 (sixth through eighth). Pimlico will match the amount wagered on Friday's winner and make a contribution to Komen Maryland.
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