Female Jockeys Saddled Up, Rode Over the Odds

Friday, February 19, 2010

Legendary female jockey Julie Krone is the subject of a movie now in the making called "Freak." That spurs Regina Varolli to look back over the 40 years since jockey Diane Crump became the first woman to race professionally in the "Sport of Kings."

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Jockey Diane Crump racing against the men.(WOMENSENEWS)--Movie director Katherine Brooks ("Loving Annabelle," 2006, and "Waking Madison," 2009) is making a film about the life of legendary female jockey Julie Krone.

"She doesn't think of herself as a woman, she identifies herself as a jockey," Brooks said in a recent interview. "This, despite the fact that at the beginning of her career she was heckled by crowds….They used to shout at her to 'go home and make babies'."

In May 1989, Krone became the first female jockey to stare out from the cover of Sports Illustrated, wearing no makeup, her silks covered in dirt.

"She wanted to be seen as the jockey that she is, not as a sex symbol," Brooks said.

Dubbed "the winningest female jockey in history," she's the only woman to be inducted into thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame, which occurred in 2000. Krone won 3,704 professional races, totaling over $90 million in prize money, known as purses.

Krone is still the only woman to have won a Triple Crown race, flying across the finish line atop Colonial Affair in the 125th running of the Belmont Stakes in 1993. She's the only woman to ever compete at Belmont, where she raced on five occasions.

Brooks' movie is called "Freak," which in the racing world is a term for horses who win over and over, even when they shouldn't.

It's a fitting name for the entire history of women in a sport that to this day still barely admits them.

In horse racing the male-female jockey ratio is still daunting at 9-to-1 and women continue to have a hard time hanging on to their saddles even when they start winning.

Female Jockey Passed Over

After Mine That Bird won a historic Derby upset in 2009, jockey Chantal Sutherland, who had just ridden the horse to four straight victories, was passed over for Mike Smith for the Preakness Stakes--the middle jewel in the Triple Crown.

Smith had never mounted Mine That Bird and they didn't win the Preakness, leaving many in the sport wondering what would have happened had Sutherland been in the saddle.

Only two women have mounted in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland--Patricia Cooksey in 1985 and Andrea Seefeldt in 1994.

While purses are equal--both male and female jockeys' winnings are a percentage of the purse that goes to the owner, usually negotiated by their agent--facilities are worse for women.

Diane Crump, 60, a trailblazer in the sport, said that when she first started racing in 1969, "I would have to use an office or a first-aid room as my jock room because they didn't have any facilities for women, and we weren't allowed to share the men's rooms. I remember having to pee in a cup when I didn't have time to run all the way to the public ladies room."

After recently touring U.S. racetracks for her film, Brooks called the female jock rooms disgraceful. "The men have steam rooms, whirlpools, saunas, exercise equipment, restrooms, showers, even beds. The women have nothing by comparison," she said.

Crump says that though racing is still extremely male dominated, things have changed. "There are actual opportunities for women today, there were none at all 40 years ago," she said. "Even mounting the small tracks wasn't possible. Today, anything is possible for women in this sport. If you're really good, you get the chance to show it off."

Crump continued: "Is it equal? No. It probably never will be. Is it impossible? No. Because it's legal now."

1 COMMENTS | Login or Sign Up to post comments



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For This Working Mom It's a Real Balancing Act

Great piece. There are a few corrections:

Krone is NOT the only woman in the Hall of Fame

Janet Elliott to Hall of Fame:

Robin Smith was on the cover of Sports Illustrated circa 1972

Julie Krone IS the winningest female jockey so I don’t know why they say she is “dubbed” that

Krone is certainly NOT the “only woman to ever compete at Belmont” (perhaps they mean IN the Belmont Stakes?) and she certainly competed more than five times