Women make up 49 percent of the American workforce, but Dave Contarino reports that horse racing has remained a male-dominated sport. To underscore his point, Dave Contarino shares that only 10 percent of professional jockeys are female.
More women are filling important roles as trainers and owners, says Dave Contarino. However, the same growth hasn’t translated onto the racetrack. Dave Contarino cites a study performed by the Jockey’s Guild that found 75 of 750 licensed jockeys were women. Few of these women have experienced the thrill of performing in the Triple Crown series or winning the championships of the Breeders’ Cup.
The question of why more women aren’t serving as jockeys is a complex one, admits Dave Contarino. At times, these have encountered bias from managers and owners. Dave Contarino notes that another common conclusion drawn by the sport’s leading experts concerns the pure physicality of the sport. The rigorous aspects of horse racing have often kept women from the upper reaches of this demanding field.
A jockey must possess strong legs and upper body in order to properly handle the horse, states Dave Contarino. While jockeys are notable for being shorter in stature, men are typically stronger than women of the same size.
Dave Contarino observes that family matters have also played a major role. Promising jockeys Tammi Piermarini and Kayla Stra both took long periods of time off after starting a family. Given the grueling schedule of a jockey, a break of any length can disrupt the rhythm, says Dave Contarino.
Several women have bucked the trend and accomplished a series of impressive feats over the last three decades, says Dave Contarino. For example, Diane Crump was the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Dave Contarino relates that this pioneer of horse racing now owns a stable and trains many of today’s leading horses.
According to Dave Contarino, Patricia Cooksey was the first woman to ride in the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, when Tajawa finished sixth in 1985. Cooksey was also the first to win a stakes at Churchill Downs with BestofbothWorlds in 1986.
Perhaps the most famous female jockey in history, says Dave Contarino, is Julie Krone, the all-time leader in wins for a woman. In 1995, she became the first woman to compete in more than one Kentucky Derby with Suave Project. Dave Contarino recalls that the pinnacle achievement of her career occurred in 1993, when she won the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Other notable names in this grand tradition include Andrea Seefeldt, who finished 16th in the 1991 Kentucky Derby aboard Forty Something, and Rosemary Homeister Jr., whose horse Supah Blitz placed 13th last year. Dave Contarino says that their influence is still felt today.
As more women rack up significant achievements in the sport, Dave Contarino is hopeful that young girls will follow their lead. Dave Contarino believes that owners must have confidence that women can compete on the major stages. If more like these notable jockeys can win consistently and score well during the sport’s most prominent races, then women will be drawn to the track in droves.