Well, it’s been quite a spring. It’s funny how we all can’t wait for spring and racing to begin, but once it begins we find ourselves overwhelmed and busy and then before we know it, the spring season is all over!
This has been the most exciting and memorable spring racing season for me as a rider. As a young fairly inexperienced female jockey in steeplechasing, there are definitely many obstacles that I’ve had to overcome to get opportunities to ride races. I have won over 20 point to point races, but have only ridden a handful of sanctioned jump races. I started this spring with a win over hurdles at Blue Ridge Point to point on Dai Bando (trained by Jimmy Day) and a 3 rd on Orchestra Leader over hurdles at Warrenton Point to Point (also trained by Jimmy Day). I also won a 2-mile training flat race on Lune De Caro for my boss, Jonathan Sheppard. Little did I know at the time that those point to point races would lead to the biggest spring season of my career.
After I won the flat race on Lune De Caro, his owners talked to Jonathan and decided that they would like to give me an opportunity to ride him over jumps. We went to the ratings race at Middleburg with my 10-pound apprentice allowance with the plan to see if I could get him to settle and jump better than he had the year before. I was able to get him switched off out the back, and he came with a belated run to finish 3 rd , and was far in front after the wire. However, it my first sanctioned start of the year and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I was just a bit too wide the whole way, and I waited too long to make my final move. It was always meant to be used as a prep race for Nashville, but I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed with the ride I gave the horse.
A week later the overnights came out on a 3 meet weekend and I noticed Orchestra Leader was running at Foxfield and didn’t have a rider. I texted Jimmy Day hoping that my 10 lbs. apprentice allowance and the fact that I rode him in a point to point would be enough to get me on the horse. Turns out it was enough, and I had a great spin on “Ollie” finishing 2 nd by a neck! Although it was exciting to finish that well, and to see my race riding improving, it was a tough loss to swallow knowing I was a neck away from getting my first winner.
As it turns out, my first winner would end up coming on the biggest stage possible, on the most memorable day on a horse that means the world to me for connections that are some of my biggest supporters.
We headed out to Nashville, TN for the Iroquois Steeplechase on Thursday May 12. The horses would run that Saturday, and I would be having my second go on Lune De Caro in the $30,000 Bright Hour 3-mile Hurdle Race. The first day we were there, there was a quick thunderstorm that was followed by a beautiful rainbow over the barn where our horses were stabled. I got a feeling that that was Divine Fortune’s way of letting me know that he was still there, and I really did start to get a good feeling about the weekend. The Iroquois is one of the most prestigious race meets that is held in the US, and although I have had the privilege of riding in the Bright Hour the past couple of years I had never had a chance to ride in the race on a horse with a legitimate shot of winning. This year was also unique as I was the only female jockey riding on the day. The newspaper did an article on female riders and I was interviewed quite a few times about being a female in a male dominated sport. I definitely felt even more pressure to represent females in the sport after all of the media attention I received in the days leading up to the race since I was the lone female.
I walked the course once on Thursday, twice on Friday, and once Saturday morning and I watched what felt like a million replays of different winners around the course. I spoke with Jonathan many different times about the game plan, and he made it very clear he wanted me to sit right behind whatever pace there was, and if I was going well enough at the bottom of the final hill he wanted to kick on and get a jump on the rest of the field and make them catch me since I was carrying 10 lbs. or more less than most of the field.
The race literally could not have gone any closer to plan. Lune was pretty strong early but I was able to settle him off the one pace setting horse and next to Paddy Young on Andi Amu who would go on to finish 2 nd . We went around like that until the last fence down the backside, which was when Lune gave me a huge jump and he jumped to the lead. We jumped the 3 rd last with about a length lead and then did as Jonathan hoped we would and kicked home up the hill to the final two fences with a few length lead. I could feel Paddy Young’s horse gaining at the last fence, but I was carrying 10 lbs. less than him and Lune De Caro is one of the toughest horses I’ve ever been around, and that day was going to be our day- I knew Lune wasn’t letting anyone past him after we got over the last hurdle. I was of course drenched in a bucket of water courtesy of Gerard Galligan right after I weighed out before the trophy presentation. I was then also gotten again by Ross Geraghty and Willie McCarthy with red Gatorade when I returned to the jocks tent, and needless to say even after 5 times of hand washing the silks with bleach they now have a permanent pink tint to them- thanks guys.
I’ve been trying for the last 6 weeks to put into words what crossing the wire first that day felt like, or what it means to me, and I still haven’t been able to find the right words. Ruby Walsh went out of his way to tell me I gave Lune a very smart ride, and to say I was star struck would be an understatement. He may have been lying, he may not have even watched, but to have the conversation with someone of the class of Ruby Walsh was pretty incredible to say the Least.
I have thanked the connections 100+ times, but I have to thank Joe and Tamara McSorely once more for taking a chance on a little 10 lbs bug girl and letting me stay on the horse after the mediocre ride I gave him at Middleburg. They are truly amazing people inside and out and I can’t even begin to say how much I appreciate them. I have to thank Jonathan once again for never telling me to give up on my dream of riding jump races even when early on I struggled over a fence. He gave me countless lessons when schooling in the mornings and eventually it all clicked, and I am so grateful he never gave up on me or let me give up on myself. My biggest thanks goes to the little grey horse, once an orphan foal, who got us to the wire first after 3 miles and over 18 fences. He is a really special horse, and I am just so incredible lucky and blessed to have had an opportunity to ride a horse of his caliber in such a big race on a massive stage (the races were live streamed with over 3,000 people watching online at a time), and to represent #girlpower as the only female rider on the day!
My win at Nashville on Lune De Caro would be my final race/win for the spring. But as summer racing has just started, I was given the opportunity to ride my first hurdle race at a racetrack last weekend. I was reunited with Orchestra Leader at Monmouth Park and we led to the last fence and just got a bit tired to finish 4 th . I am so grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given to this point and am really looking forward to the rest of the season, and hope that I (along with the other female riders) can continue to pave the way for girls in the younger generations!